One of the most important components of any NHL organization, and also possibly the least known by fans, is the scouting department. Scouts are somewhat mysterious creatures that move in the shadows and dark of night. No, not really, but it seems that way at times.
Scouts rarely hold public media sessions, see no public spotlight, and rarely realize any semblance of fame or fortune. They sit in the stands of small arenas around the world, going mostly unnoticed, as they casually process a game, jot a few notes and report on their latest observations. And yet, scouts may be the most important eyes and ears of any organization, and play a huge part in shaping the future success (or lack thereof) for any organization.
About Caps Scouting
According to the Washington Capitals Staff Guide, the Caps organization consists of 12 fulltime and/or part-time scouts in their scouting department. That’s pretty much all you’re gonna get from the team, and understandably so.
There might be a name or two that average Capitals fans might recognize (Matt Bradley previously played for the Caps), but for the most part, it’s likely a rather innocuous-sounding slate of names for the mainstream Capitals fan.
[Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan (back-left), assistant general manager Ross Mahoney (lower-right) and Darrell Baumgartner, right of Mahoney, hold a meeting with the Capitals scouting department in south Florida in 2016. (Photo: Alex Prewitt).]
The “Western Pipeline”
The Capitals have relied on a number of “scouting pipelines”, implemented around the globe, for the identification, assessment, selection and development of their player prospects. But arguably none is more pronounced and as productive in recent years as the “Western Pipeline.”
This pipeline primarily consists of Ross Mahoney, the Capitals assistant general manager, who spent the previous 17 seasons as the Caps’ director of amateur scouting, and Darrell Baumgartner, a teacher-turned scout and long-time friend of Mahoney’s, based in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Mahoney and Baumgartner have won a championship together once prior to winning the Stanley Cup this past June. Back in 1995, the tandem won a gold medal coaching a Saskatchewan men’s hockey team at the 1995 Canada Winter Games.
For Baumgartner and Mahoney, both who currently reside in Regina, the difficult work dates back to their youth, when they were introduced although working on field maintenance at Mount Pleasant Sports Park.
“We’ve had a friendship for many, multiple years,” Baumgartner says, “culminating in a Stanley Cup.” “We’re two prairie kids from Saskatchewan who enjoyed a gold medal at the Canada Games,” Baumgartner reflects. “It’s a thrill just to be in the playoffs, let alone the Stanley Cup final. I find it more of an honor.”
The two celebrated their Stanley Cup victory on July 29th in Regina, Saskatchewan, during Ross Mahoney’s Day With The Stanley Cup. Above, the two are photographed at the Royal Regina Gold Club.
Growing up, Baumgartner played between the pipes. “I went to school (college) for the hockey and four years later, I ended up with a teaching degree,” he said.
After graduating from the University of Regina at the age of 25, Baumgartner spent 30 years as an educator with the Regina Catholic School system before he retired on Feb. 1, 2015, and joined the Capitals full-time.
Before his retirement from teaching, Baumgartner was also a part-time scout for the Capitals, hired by Mahoney, who was involved in selecting the likes of Braden Holtby, Madison Bowey and Chandler Stephenson, just to name a few.
In a 2015 interview with Colton Hordichuk, Baumgartner shed some light on his day-to-day work for the Capitals and the similarities with his previous teaching career. After the scout watches a game, he writes up reports on the draft eligible players. Some of the primary attributes he looks for are skating, hockey sense, character, and physical play. Similarly, in teaching, he would write up report cards. As well, player interviews are a crucial part of the scouting process, like parent-teacher interviews were in school.
Products of the Western Pipeline
If you look at recent draft history for the Capitals, it’s easy to see Baumgartner has been heavily involved in the development of the Capitals player prospect pool. A quick glance at draft picks from the last four entry drafts illustrates the importance of the “Western Pipeline”. (It should be noted that other scouts are always involved in the assessment and selection of any player).
Of the 22 players selected by the Capitals in the last four drafts (since Baumgartner joined the Capitals full time) nine have come from the Western Hockey League. Thats greater than 40 percent. Five of those nine picks from the WHL were defensemen. Also, consider the Capitals 2018 draft picks, and that 4 out of 7 of the picks came from the Western Hockey League, and you can begin to see the importance of the “Western Pipeline”.
“Darrell has done a tremendous job,” Mahoney says. “He played a key role in identifying Chandler and Braden as two players we wanted to draft. He was high on both players and pushed hard for both of them.”
References and Resources:
A different kind of evaluation
The Hockey Nut
Mahoney and Baumgartner share in Capitals Stanley Cup Win
By Jon Sorensen