Rare are those in the hockey world that bathe in the smell of the arenas and the action on the ice that the recruiters ; they strive to find the players of tomorrow in the NHL, anywhere in North America and Europe. This train of life, as grueling as exciting, however, is on pause by 2020 due to the COVID-19. Mode of telework, the researchers hope, are facing a new reality they want well ephemeral.
“We saw something that we have never seen. Even in the years of lock-out, there were junior players to spy. There, everything is stopped. In 36 years in the League, I thought I had seen everything, but no ! “lance of the office of his home in Quebec road, Gilles Côté, who usually lives in his bags for San Jose Sharks.
Since march, the recruiters, like the rest of the world, no longer traveling. Anyway, there is more to hockey, except on video.
The countless hours sketching out the traits of every hope of leading or of each hidden gem, it is on screen that it is happening for many weeks, rather than in the stands of Rimouski, of Saginaw or Mannheim.
“In our business, it is necessary to be in arenas. You can invest as much as you want on as the technology advanced, but nothing beats the eyes and the gut, ” recalls accurately, Jean-Philippe Glaude, the Predators of Nashville.
Changes, here to stay ?
In all the pandemonium aroused by the coronavirus, the uncertainty eats away at so that the players, who are now ready to resume the action for the tournament to 24 teams, Toronto and Edmonton.
In the small fraternity of recruiters used to travel the roads and airways, some have questioned whether the daily will resume its course as before. The NHL and its 31 teams have already lost important sources of revenue and no one can predict the future.
“When hockey will resume after all that, we are going to ask us to travel less, or to be more regional ? Will it make a lot more videos ? We may not know if decreases in budget will affect the recruitment ” reflects Jerome Mésonéro, recruiter for the Colorado Avalanche since 2014.
“For me, the video will always be a good complement to analysis, but not more. I would never be comfortable with 100 % analyze a player without having the feeling of the game, the score and the context. Cut in the budget of the recruitment process, would be cut in the raw material of hockey “, he adds.
The place of telework
If it is difficult to imagine that the organizations can make the choice to slash the massive budgets of recruitment, it remains that telecommuting, a word which had not appeared in the lexicon of the recruiters before march, is expected to invite for good.
“I’m pretty convinced that there will be more. It is the money which leads to “, argued one of the deans of the group, Gilles Side.
“There must be 25 people in the Sharks who participate in five or six meetings per year in person in San Jose. Can you Imagine the expense of plane, hotel, per diem… To make such meetings by video conferencing, it does not cost a cenne. Teams know how to count. “
If keeping the players in game situations on the spot is a rite untouchable, it is, however, permitted to believe that many of the interviews may be done at a distance by the magic of the video.
“This is totally doable, concedes Jerome Mésonéro. Instead of sleeping one more night in the outside to see a hope to play and do an interview with him the next day, it is logical to use this tool. “
This is a vision that does not share his brother Denis Fugère, of the Los Angeles Kings.
“With video, there will always be an intermediary which is the camera and which does not have the same transparency,” said the veteran.
There are, in the upheavals of today, a point on which the scouts, regardless of their allegiance, agree totally.
“Our life before all of this, it was the car, airplanes, arenas… We all look forward to it going “, sums up Mésonéro.
A certain impact on the development of the players
After many years of service to the cause of Sharks, Gilles Side thinks still not retired despite the uncertainty of the context in which the professional world is plunged.
The current context generates not only uncertainty in the analysis of the hopes for the draft to come, but also in relation to the assessment of young players who are already part of an organization of the NHL and who can’t continue their progression.
The Kings, for example, are part of a long process of rebuilding and the team is part of the seven that are excluded from the tournament that begins in August. The long months of inactivity are certainly not the remedy prescribed for young people.
“The motivation to train for a player for nine months without play may not be there,” says Denis Fugère, to the employment of the Kings since 2007.
The example of Gabriel Vilardi is convincing. The seasons junior 2017-18 and 2018-19 of the attacker ontario have been mortgaged by injuries. This season, he has appeared to his recall with the Kings in February, with seven points in 10 games.
“It was encouraging, but he already has two seasons of lost, almost three. Poor him… ” sighs Fugère.
July is usually synonymous with development camps for young people of an organization. This is another great opportunity to ogle the talent that slips through the hands of the evaluators.
“I do the monitoring at a distance, but it is much less interesting than on the ice in person. It has provided tools such as clinics and we try to accompany our young people as possible. Some will continue to improve, but others will not what it takes even if there is no excuse to regress, ” says the development director of the Lightning, Jean-Philippe Côté.
A preparation is turned upside down for the last chance
The draft of 2020 will not only be strange for the players who will not have the opportunity to live in the euphoria of the amphitheatre. It will also be the recruiters, who do not have all the elements usual in hand in order to sit their recommendations.
“I think of the recruiters and I say to myself that in spite of their dedication to the video, there is a risk of missing a range of information “, said Jean-Philippe Côté, who has just completed his first season as director of player development with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In addition to the seasons, junior and university-have ended prematurely, several events had to be cancelled, which Combines the NHL, the world championship of under 18 years of age and other opportunities to evaluate the expectations.
“It was still a very good topo of the players available. What I miss the most, personally, is to observe how does a young under pressure in series in a seventh game. Is it comfortable ? Is he rushing his movements ?
“At the Combines, you have the opportunity to meet with 80 young people individually, in addition to physical fitness tests. By pushing, you can access some data, but this is not the same thing as in normal times, ” says Jean-Philippe Glaude, the Predators.
Too much analysis
In front of the void of hockey, the recruiters had no choice but to fall back on the analysis of the matches of the last season. For the Preds, each recruiter was given the mandate to pass through 12 parties per week for a month.
In Kings, homework, and lessons were also of this order.
“We all made a lot of videos on players that are going to be out in the seventh round. I feel like I know the guy by heart and it becomes redundant ” laughs Denis Fugère.
“I would say that in a certain way, the next draft is almost surpréparé, but in a different way than usual. “
One thing is for certain, if junior hockey is reborn alive and well the next fall, even the deans of the brotherhood of the recruiters will not twist his arm to take to the road again.
“I might be a small fear of flying at the start, but I travel mostly by car. The hotels, he will need to trust them. And it’s been a long time that I hang of Purell with me on a trip, ” says Fugère, whose immune system has been weakened by cancer by 2015.
Same observation for Gilles Side, the Sharks, for whom the hour of retirement had not rung. “I just have to protect me a little. The Sharks don’t want me to go away. My boss recently said to my wife : You’re not ready to get back to your husband ! ” guffaws-t-it.