The Arizona Coyotes announced big changes to their front office today, as the team fired assistant coach Newell Brown and Tucson Roadrunners general manager Doug Soetaert, while declining to renew the contracts of professional scouts Jim Roque and David Maclean.
Coyotes GM John Chayka said in a team released statement, “I’d like to thank Newell, Doug, David, and Jim for their contributions to the club. They are all good people but we believe these changes are necessary in order to improve our organization.”
The team also said in the statement that they “will immediately begin a search to replace these positions.”
But, who exactly are these casualties of a fifth-straight postseason-less season, and who will hopefully succeed them?
Brown’s termination might be the least surprising aspect of today’s news. Beginning his coaching career in 1986, the experienced right-hand man has coordinated the Coyotes power play unit since joining the staff in 2013.
Brown orchestrated a dynamic man-advantage unit for Arizona in his first two years, when the team’s power play percentage ranked in the top ten in the league both years. However, the pressure for 2016-17 was cranked up for Brown after a disappointing slip to 20th in the power play rankings two years ago.
Despite the addition of offensive-minded defenseman Alex Goligoski in the offseason, the Coyotes’ power play was dismal this year, scoring only 16 percent of the time, the fifth worst rate in the league.
Soetaert had the honor of becoming the first GM in the new Tucson Roadrunners’ history last year. He now holds the distinction to be the first GM to be fired by the team as well.
Soetaert, who cut his front-office teeth in the Western Hockey League before taking over in Tucson, oversaw the Roadrunners’ second half collapse in 2016-17 that saw the team miss the playoffs by 11 points.
The development of Tucson’s franchise however, is imperative to the success of their NHL parent. Just last year alone, prospects Christian Dvorak, Anthony DeAngelo, and Anthony Duclair all spent stretches in the American Hockey League; in the AHL’s proving ground, a solid veteran roster is a must to protect younger players trying to develop their game.
While the entire Tucson franchise deserves praise for their handling of the Craig Cunningham incident, the on-ice failures of the team after some mid-season trades left Soetaert exposed to this kind of move.
David MacLean and Jim Roque
After years of operating with a minor-league caliber scouting department, the Coyotes refurbished the unit in 2014, when a shake up among scouting leadership and the hiring of three new talent evaluators brought some respectability to the previously undermanned area of the organization.
At that time, the team had a Director of Pro Scouting—Frank Effinger—and four dedicated professional scouts, MacLean and Roque among them.
After today’s news, there are zero professional scouts left with the team, while the position of “Director of Pro Scouting” no longer exists, according to the team’s website.
It has been well-documented how inadequate the scouting department was during the team’s league-owned years. The departure of MacLean and Roque will do nothing but reignite those fears among fans once again.
MacLean’s exit is especially surprising. Hired in 2007, the former Grand Rapids Griffins scout was brought on in Arizona as a video scout. The son of former NHL assistant coach Paul, MacLean went to film school, eyeing a video scouting career in the NHL.
With his versatile style and modern approach to scouting, MacLean’s profile seems to be the one an innovative GM like John Chayka would want. While the motive for the decision was not offered by the team in its statement, the decision to cut the team’s only two listed professional scouts signals a deliberate shift in the approach to the scouting department.
Brown’s replacement will likely be down to head coach Dave Tippet, considering his new role of increased autonomy and say in the team’s decision making process.
The person to fill the Roadrunners’ GM void is anybody’s guess, but the hiring of a promising minor league or juniors GM would seem to be a likely route for Chayka and company to take.
However, the holes in the scouting department will be the biggest question mark, given the team’s checkered past in that area. In a perfect world, the positions will be filled by solid scouts that Chayka trusts and can collaborate with.
But until new bodies are brought in, the glaring gaps in one of the most integral departments in a professional sports franchise will hang over the Coyotes like a dark cloud, bringing back unwanted memories of years past.