While the Leafs have had a lot of amateur scouts, the pro scouting ranks were a little thin, relatively speaking, so adding two more pro scouts was not a big surprise. Who they are is.
Rick Olczyk has a long and interesting executive career that brings him, at 48, to the Leafs with a resume similar to Kyle Dubas’s AGM Laurence Gilman.
Rick Olczyk started out life playing hockey in Chicago like his older brother Ed Olczyk. He even spent a year in Canada living with the same billet family that helped shape Ed’s career as a junior, and is listed on the team site of the Stratford Warriors as an alumnus of the team. That billet family saw the difference between the boys when they were teenagers:
Rick Olczyk – Ed’s younger brother – lived with the couple in 1987-88.
“Both really nice boys but as different as they could be,” Marion says. “Ricky was real quiet, and Ed was so outgoing.”
Rick Olczyk was studious as a teenager, so the Turfords weren’t surprised when he went to Brown University and earned a law degree from Cornell. He’s now an assistant general manager with the Carolina Hurricanes.
While at Brown, he was a defenceman — of the low-scoring variety — but he finished up as captain of the team his last year, and he captained the US under 17 team to a silver medal as well.
Cornell law school helped him fit his two interests together in a way that’s very reminiscent of Gilman discovering the competitive aspects of contract negotiation and where the law and hockey overlap:
Over the course of his three years at Myron Taylor Hall, Olczyk’s passion for law and hockey, he fondly recalled, was shaped by four Law School Faculty members in particular. “Professor Robert Summers employed the Socratic Method in his Contracts class and taught me to think and analyze situations in a completely different manner,” he said. “His methods in dealing with contracts, people, relationships, and building trust continue to help me today. I should also thank Professor Buck-Briggs, who taught me how to take legal principles and apply it to sports facts, thus combining my two interests. Finally, two other professors instrumental to my development are Professor Alexander for his course on Property and Trusts and Estates as well as Professor Claremont’s class on Civil Procedure, which taught me to pay close attention to details.”
Cornell also brought him another opportunity, an internship with the NHLPA.
During the first semester of his third year, Olczyk followed the teachings of Professor Briggs and accepted an internship with the NHL Players Association (NHLPA), under the guidance of then director Bob Goodenow. “I needed to obtain permission from the Law School and explain why this internship would provide academic benefits and growth,” Olczyk recollected. “To me it was no different than a student interning for the SEC or the EPA. Thankfully, they accepted my arguments and agreed.”
After graduation, he worked at the NHLPA for two seasons, and then began his own consulting firm in Chicago working with hockey players.
In 2007, he folded up his private practice and moved to Edmonton to work for the Oilers as Director of Hockey Administration and Legal Affairs. He became the AGM there at the end of that season after the Oilers ownership changed, and the front office was reorganized.
In 2008, some Oilers fans were impressed with their first look at the new AGM who didn’t want to overpay the depth:
The Oilers’ offer is reportedly for less than the $1 million a year similar role player Matt Bradley just received with the Washington Capitals.
”We’ve given them a deadline,” said Rick Olczyk, the Oilers’ salary-cap expert who’s handling negotiations.
”I know players are looking for the pot at the end of the rainbow,” said Olczyk.
In 2014, during the period Craig MacTavish acted as the General Manager the Oilers wanted to move in Bill Scott from their AHL team to the NHL front office. They offered Olczyk another job, but he declined. Scott is still with the Oilers as Director of Hockey Operations, and he is also in charge of their salary cap management as well as their AHL team.
Two months later, Olczyk was named the AGM of the Carolina Hurricanes under longtime Dubas friend and mentor, Ron Francis.
While serving as AGM in Carolina, he was also a scout for Team Europe from November 2015 through the World Cup of Hockey in the summer of 2016. He left the Hurricanes very recently, amid rumours he was going to turn up working for the Leafs.
Like Olczyk, Blair MacKasey is also a man with a long career in the executive suite. He is older than virtually everyone in the Leafs hierarchy, and at 62, he played his hockey in the seventies, including one game for the Maple Leafs. He was drafted in the fourth round, but that was 55th overall in those days; however, his hockey career never happened.
He grew up in Montreal, and played for the Junior Canadiens, but ended his playing career at only 22. The Montreal Gazette was on the case with this hiring yesterday, and their profile of MacKasey is very good.
“The role is yet to be really determined,” Mackasey said about his new job with the Leafs. “But it will be what I’ve always done … pro scouting pretty much. I know a lot of people in the organization. It was pretty easy to get done.”
MacKasey worked as a head coach in the QMJHL until he began scouting for the Phoenix Coyotes in the late nineties. He would have been with the team at the same time as Gilman.
Mackasey then spent six years as a scout for the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes before joining Hockey Canada, where he was head scout and then director of player personnel, responsible for player evaluation and selections for the national junior and under-18 teams. During his time with Hockey Canada from 2002-2006, Mackasey put together teams that won two gold and two silver medals at the world junior championship.
After his time with Hockey Canada, he became the Director of Professional Scouting and then the Director of Player Personnel for the Minnesota Wild.
The Wild recently had a regime change, and with the exit of GM Chuck Fletcher, son of Leafs adviser Cliff Fletcher, MacKasey found himself out of a job.
The job he is taking with the Leafs seems like it’s a step back, much like it does for Olczyk. MacKasey interviewed for the GM position in Montreal before the job was given to Marc Bergevin, and he’s been in management for many years.
Both Olczyk and MacKasey come into the organization under newly promoted Troy Brodie, but it certainly seems like there’s suddenly more to the job of pro scouting for the Leafs than there used to be. If that’s true, that’s good, because the Leafs are coming into a long period where they’re going to have to make trades to manage their roster balance and to improve.
MacKasey mentions in his interview with the Gazette that he watched about 180 NHL games last year, and spent a lot of time in Montreal, which means he spent a lot of time watching the Atlantic division.
These hirings look on the surface like trading for the top centre on a lesser team and then playing them on the fourth line because the Leafs are just that deep. They are that deep at centre. If the management ranks are getting so deep that two highly qualified executives want to come to work for Kyle Dubas, well that’s good.
You know how Mike Babcock likes to talk about how good teams are hard teams to make? That if the rookie can crack the roster too easy, then something is wrong? It seems like the front office has gotten that way too. Competition at every position: not just for on the ice any longer.