MONTREAL – It is not yesterday that the Anaheim Ducks’ expertise in the art of the draft is recognized and Quebecer Martin Madden Jr. has been the master builder for several years. It was about time his boss gave him a promotion so he wouldn’t be ravished by another organization.
Since his arrival as director of amateur recruiting in 2008-09, the Ducks have excelled in unearthing quality prospects. Madden and his entourage have particularly fared well in two ways. First, they were able to select several players who were able to establish themselves in the NHL even though they often had to draft late in the first round (like Jake Gardiner, Rickard Rakell and Shea Theodore).
Then they found some prominent gems in the late rounds (Sami Vatanen, Josh Manson, Ondrej Kase).
In order to give you an overview of the conclusive results of the Ducks, we have retraced a statistical analysis of the firm ISS Hockey. By accumulating the draft picks of the teams from 2008 to 2017, the Ducks rank at the top for the number of games played by their selections and third for the points average amassed by these players in the NHL. During this period, the Canadian posted a batting average at the end of the peloton.
In short, Madden Jr.’s reputation is solid in the industry and the expected dilemma arose at the start of the pandemic. Ron Francis, who leads the Seattle expansion team’s debut, contacted him and his boss, Bob Murray, had to walk the talk quickly by granting him a job as deputy to the General manager.
« [Francis] wanted to talk to me about different roles they are trying to fill within their new organization, he told RDS.ca. This request sped things up a bit with Bob. Over the next three weeks, my role was redefined for at least the next two years. “
From now on, Madden will add professional recruitment management to his mandate while being involved in the decision-making process for the composition of the team.
“We had been talking about it for a few years. I was very comfortable to continue to focus on the amateur side. But, at the same time, the time had come a little to learn other things. It’s a great challenge, I already see a different horizon on several decisions that are taken within the organization. I have a more global view of what is happening in the team, ”said Madden Jr. who had started this draft with Murray in January.
In his 12th year with the Ducks and 22nd in the NHL, he wanted to have a bigger say in decisions.
“Yes and it’s also nice for another organization to recognize that we did a good job on the amateur side. In the Ducks, I have been given a lot of freedom in my responsibilities and I greatly appreciate that. I am also a loyal guy by nature in life. To see that the Ducks continue to believe in me and see potential in my abilities, other than that shown on the amateur side, it’s nice. I think I was there, ”he admitted.
In Anaheim, fans are used to supporting an NHL powerhouse. They hardly want the reconstruction – which has been taking place especially for two years – to drag on. To speed things up, some observers already see Madden Jr. as Murray’s successor at the end of his contract which includes two other seasons.
“I don’t really think about it. There will be 32 GM positions shortly so if it happens, it will. But, for now, I am starting in my role as assistant GM. I’m going to get my toes off a bit by gaining experience and we’ll see in due course, ”replied the interlocutor, smiling.
“Anyway, I don’t think Bob wants to retire in two years,” he added.
It would have been ill-advised for him to answer otherwise. Moreover, his father, who, at 77, continues his illustrious career in the industry, is still there to advise him on this matter.
“He’s happy for me, he knew it was a goal. He keeps giving me advice and telling me to be patient and let things happen on time. In the end, he is proud and it’s nice to have him with me, he went through these stages and these experiences. He knows the inner workings of the NHL, it gives me a perspective other than most guys in recruiting, ”said son.
Small parenthesis, his father, who worked in particular for the Nordiques and the Canadian, still acts as an amateur recruiter for the Ducks.
“I kept him part-time in Quebec. He has continued to make almost 80 games per season in recent years. He is no longer as confident behind the wheel as he used to be, but there are lifts to tour the QMJHL anyway. He even goes around the Maritimes a few times a year. He continues to love it and it keeps him active, ”noted Madden Jr. while Stéphane Pilotte also patrols the territory of Quebec.
No top-5 pick since 2005
Due to the unusual format of the NHL lottery this year, the Ducks fell one spot to hold the sixth pick in the first round. Madden Jr. watched this particular night from his home in Quebec City and he had already got used to the idea that a team participating in the qualifying round would climb into the top-3.
“As soon as the NHL decided to give these teams such odds, it was pretty likely that one of them would sneak up,” agreed the manager.
“In our case, we only went down one row. It would have been really nice to get the first choice, everyone realizes the impact that this player (Alexis Lafrenière) will have and probably from the next season. We are happy not to have stepped back further, ”continued Madden Jr., who holds an MBA from HEC Montreal.
That said, the Ducks came close to selecting in the top-5 for the first time since 2005 when they drafted Bobby Ryan right after Sidney Crosby. Fortunately, the 2020 vintage has a wealth of talent and Madden considers that 10 to 12 players could have a positive impact on their new organization in the short term.
Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has been a good time to extract more valuable information before deciding which players will still be eligible for the sixth rung. Remember that the Ducks drafted the talented Trevor Zegras in ninth place last summer.
A challenge to maintain the motivation of established players
In addition to preparing for the draft – which Madden Jr. would have liked to experience another time in Montreal – the Ducks are redoubling their efforts to mentor the club’s established players.
“We won’t start the next season again before December or January. It will be around 10 months since some players have not played a real match. We have to keep them active until then, ”said Madden Jr., acknowledging that it was a tall order.
“It’s quite a task to keep the motivation high in all the athletes and to make sure they push hard during this time. For the young people, motivation remains present and it was not difficult to relaunch training by setting goals, ”he said.
On a personal level, he will have to adjust his schedule for the 2020-2021 season.
“It is clear that I will not be able to dwell so much on the late choices. I will have to delegate more responsibilities, that I give more ‘money to my staff’ from the middle of the third round. Outside the top-75, it will be more difficult to have an in-depth view of the players, ”said the 49-year-old.
His new position will also lead him to regain a deep knowledge of every player in the NHL.
“I was focusing on junior and university hockey. Yes, I watched every Ducks game and I know the Pacific Division very well. But, for the rest of the NHL, there are players that I haven’t seen on a regular basis for four or five years. I’m also thinking of understanding more about the path of the 21 to 24 players of the guys I recruited when they were between 16 and 20 years old. This is where I need to refresh my knowledge. I need to learn more about development in the first year in the AHL. This is where I will spend more time in the next two years, ”concluded frankly Madden Jr., who has great respect for Clément Jodoin, Alain Chainey and Sheldon Ferguson who played a big role in his career.