VANCOUVER – Months after moving into separate bedrooms, the Vancouver Canucks and amateur scouting director Judd Brackett officially divorced on Friday.
There was no marriage counselling, no tearful final attempt to save the relationship, not enough residue left from happier times to heal wounds that opened after the fruitful partnership between Brackett and general manager Jim Benning produced draft diamonds Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.
There was just resignation and a press release Friday morning that surprised no one. The relationship soured not because of a lack of collaboration, but too much of it.
Benning told reporters in a conference call what two other sources earlier told Sportsnet: Brackett wanted a greater degree of autonomy and control over amateur scouting and the entry draft than his boss at the top of the chain of command was willing to surrender.
Thus ends the most successful – and publicly-championed – reign by an amateur scouting director in Canucks history.
But as inevitable as Brackett’s departure became, five years after the 43-year-old was promoted by Benning to succeed Thomas Gradin and Ron Delorme at the top of the Canucks scouting pyramid, there is no way to view this separation as anything except disappointing.
The National Hockey League team is expected to continue operating anyway.
“I come from a scouting background,” Benning said, his management career actually built upon it. “I believe in collaboration, the chain of command where the director of amateur scouting either reports to the director of player personnel, the assistant GM or GM. I’ve been in the business 28 years; I don’t know too many places where, you know, the team is going to give a head scout total autonomy to make all the picks without collaborating with people higher up in the chain of command than he is.”
Benning described the Canucks’ chain of command: “The way we do things is from the general manager, to the assistant general manager [John Weisbrod], to the head scout, to our crossover scouts. When we’re deciding who we’re going to pick as a player, we’re all on the same page at the end of the day when I walk up to make the pick. Those reports that there hasn’t been collaboration, I thought, were untrue.
“I don’t really get into the politics of the nonsense that, ‘That guy drafted that guy, that guy is responsible [for this guy].’ Winning organizations don’t do that. Winning organizations, they pick the players that they think they can win with and they can have success with, and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
It’s what the Canucks have accomplished here the last few years, which makes the collapse of Brackett’s relationship with senior management frustrating to the fan base and risky for the organization.
Strictly in terms of draft results, Benning now has to fix something that wasn’t broken.
The Canucks may have drafted the best player available in 2017, Pettersson, at fifth-overall when a lot of people figured Benning should take Cody Glass. Pettersson won the Calder Trophy last season, and he may turn over the award this year to his rookie teammate, Hughes, who was stolen seventh-overall in 2018.
But it wasn’t just top picks that the Canucks hit on with Brackett, it was promising prospects like Jack Rathbone (95th in 2017), Tyler Madden (68th in 2018), and Nils Hoglander and Aidan Mcdonagh (40th and 195th in 2019).
It’s an easy narrative that these were the picks of Brackett, whose superhero powers surely saved the Canucks from draft disasters. The reality is Benning, who did Brackett’s job for the Buffalo Sabres for twice as long as Brackett did it for the Canucks, puts his job on the line with every pick and is going to have a voice in the discussion/argument about them.
Brackett posted a statement on Twitter: “I am very grateful to have led the amateur scouting department. I leave proud of the work we did, the collaboration within the department and the replenishment of the prospect pool. Unfortunately, an agreement on the level of input going forward with regard to staff personnel and process could not be reached.”
The question, of course, is whether that process and the input of others changed. Brackett, who is also a successful restauranteur back home in Cape Cod, Mass., wasn’t after more money or a bigger title from the Canucks. And yet, he’s leaving anyway while the team’s ascension is powered by players he helped draft.
“I just think it got to a point where Judd’s looking for another opportunity, a fresh start, and I guess so are we,” Benning said. “This is the business side of doing business.”
First hired 12 years ago by former GM Mike Gillis as a part-time scout specializing in the United States Hockey League, Brackett officially leaves June 30 when his contract expires. This gives him the unique opportunity of taking intel from the Canucks to another organization in time for this year’s delayed draft.
Benning said he isn’t sure if Brackett’s replacement will come from within or outside the organization, but he’s comfortable going into the 2020 draft with the staff he has.
“Judd’s worked hard for us,” he said. “He’s done a good job. We have real good crossover scouts that are going to help us get through the draft this year. We weren’t going to get to an agreement with Judd, so we move on.”