MISSISSAUGUA, Ont. — The NHL Scouting Combine has had hiccups throughout its 21 years near Toronto. There were no problems or delays Saturday, which Don Maloney found ironic.
“It’s really been smooth, and now we’re thinking of leaving to go to Buffalo,” the Phoenix general manager said. “That’s the irony of it all.”
Indeed, if the Sabres’ grand plan comes true, the weeklong prospect get-together will move from a conference hall outside the Toronto airport to HarborCenter in downtown Buffalo.
“We are planning to put in a bid on the Combine,” Mike Gilbert, the Sabres’ vice president of public and community relations, said by phone Saturday.
The bid, which will be delivered this month, is expected to be comprehensive. The Sabres desperately want to bring the event to town and have spent time putting together a package that will show why.
“There’s a lot of teams that are expressing interest in hosting some future Combines,” said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. “There’s interest, but Buffalo has had a strong agenda and a strong presentation that they’d like to become the home of the Combine.”
The centerpiece of the Sabres’ pitch will, of course, be HarborCenter. The complex will have two rinks, a fitness center and hotel, making it an all-inclusive building that will allow teams to interview players and watch them work out under one roof. While the Combine doesn’t have on-ice testing, a move to HarborCenter would allow for it.
“I know in Buffalo’s case, they’re pitching that it’s being built for the Combine almost,” Marr said in International Centre. “One of the things that we’d be looking at is just the ability of everything in one site. Right now we could probably transform this into an arena ice floor, where you’d actually have the benefit of having some seating. If there ever was an opportunity down the road where teams wanted to have an on-ice component, then it would be there as well.”
While on-ice availability will be a key part of the Sabres’ pitch, it’s not clear how much demand there is for on-ice workouts. Teams like the Sabres, Ottawa and Montreal are fans, as evidenced by their decisions to host team combines in recent years. The NHL has put an end to team-sponsored workouts, so moving the Combine to Buffalo would give clubs one last look at players in skates before the draft.
Some organizations seem hesitant to endorse on-ice work because it’s not entirely fair to the prospects. Some players just finished their seasons last week, while others have been done for two months. The issues of rust and exhaustion would need to be factored into the results.
“It sounds like the Buffalo facility would certainly be conducive to doing some on-ice testing by the way it’s been described to us,” Maloney said. “We have a GM meeting coming up. It’s one of those things that will probably be talked about next meeting, fall meeting, spring meeting. Certainly, there’s a possibility.”
The Sabres are seeking to attract an event that is growing rapidly. Media coverage has expanded, with Canadian networks creating special programming. Teams are producing their own Web shows.
“The evolution of the game makes it a lot more interesting viewing for the people out there,” Maloney said. “The names are people that are going to show up in the league two, three years from now, so everybody starts to get a little idea of when Buffalo makes a pick or when Phoenix makes a pick, they can put the name to pick.”
Teams send scouts and GMs to the event, where they spend five days interviewing the 100-plus prospects and another day watching them complete fitness tests. It’s a weeklong, hotel-filling affair that started more than two decades ago as merely a number-crunching health evaluation.
“The upclose and personal has become an extremely important part of it,” said Norman Gledhill, a York University kinesiology and health science professor who has run the fitness portion since the start. “It’s just expanded.”
It’s possible the next phase of expansion will feature a move to Buffalo.