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Ed Willes: Brackett's power play for 'autonomy' costs Canucks' star scout his job

 Scouting director Judd Brackett, left, talks to Vancouver Canucks’ GM Jim Benning, centre, and AGM John Weisbrod during the 2019 NHL Entry Draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Brackett wanted some conditions before accepting a two-year contract extension from the NHL club, but Benning refused to budge.
Scouting director Judd Brackett, left, talks to Vancouver Canucks’ GM Jim Benning, centre, and AGM John Weisbrod during the 2019 NHL Entry Draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Brackett wanted some conditions before accepting a two-year contract extension from the NHL club, but Benning refused to budge.

Jim Benning says the messy divorce between star scout Judd Brackett and the Vancouver Canucks is easy to explain.

As a precondition to extending his contract with the Canucks, Brackett wanted certain conditions met. While the specifics of those conditions aren’t known, they fall under the general umbrella of autonomy.

Benning, for his part, wasn’t willing to grant those conditions which is why he’s parted ways with Brackett, the Canucks’ director of amateur scouting.

“He was offered a two-year extension,” Benning, the Canucks’ general manager, said of Brackett. “He rejected it. In rejecting it he wanted certain conditions. He has total autonomy within his role, but he was asking for things I wanted to be involved in and I wasn’t willing to give up.”

And maybe it’s that simple. Maybe there’s nothing to see here and everyone should just go about their business.

The problem is things are seldom that simple when it comes to the Canucks.

“I leave proud of the work we did, the collaboration within the department and the replenishment of the prospect pool,” Brackett wrote in his own press release.

“Unfortunately an agreement over the level of the input going forward with regard to staff personnel and process could not be reached. For those who worked with me, I enjoyed working as a team and please know your friendships are forever.”

Brackett did not respond to a text message requesting further comment on Friday but it’s interesting he used the words “collaboration” and “working as a team” in his release.

Then again, there are a lot of interesting entry and exit points to this story.

Brackett had been with the Canucks for 12 years and was named director of amateur scouting in August of 2015. He would oversee four drafts, beginning in 2016.

In 2017 and 2018, the Canucks selected foundational players Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes in the first round and added pieces like goalie Michael DiPietro, defencemen Jack Rathbone and Jett Woo and forwards Kole Lind and Tyler Madden, who was flipped to Los Angeles in the Tyler Toffoli trade, in later rounds.

The finally tally isn’t in but those drafts have the potential to be among the richest in franchise history.

Any number of narratives have since emerged about who had the most influential voice in those picks. Then-team president Trevor Linden turned the 2017 NHL entry draft over to Brackett, but Benning says the Canucks’ picks in 2017 and 2018 were the result of a collective effort within the hockey department.

“I don’t get into the politics and the nonsense,” the GM said. “You know, this guy drafted this guy or this guy drafted that guy. Winning organizations don’t do that.”

Maybe, but when Linden was fired in late July of 2018, Brackett lost a key ally. The Cape Cod native was further alienated this summer when changes were made to the Canucks’ scouting department without his input.

Those changes included the firing of scouts Dan Palango and Paul Gallagher and the hiring of former Vancouver Giant coach Troy Ward. Chris MacDonald also left the Canucks to join the Arizona Coyotes’ staff.

Benning maintains the Canucks’ amateur scouting department is still strong and with this year’s draft likely occurring in September, the Canucks may look to fill Brackett’s position.

“It’s still too early to tell now,” he said, before adding: “We’re not going to skip a beat here. We have a good foundation for our scouting group.”

Benning was asked if, ultimately, the split with Brackett was over the question of autonomy.

“That’s fair,” he said. “I come from a scouting background. I believe in collaboration and the chain of command. The director of amateur scouting either reports to the director of player personnel, the assistant GM or the GM.

“I’ve been in the business for 28 years. I don’t know too many places where the team is going to give a head scout total autonomy to make all the picks without collaborating with people higher up in the chain of command.”

But sources familiar with the situation say Brackett didn’t want complete autonomy. He wanted a voice at the table and, once Linden was removed, his voice wasn’t as important.

Either way, Brackett’s name has been connected with the new Seattle franchise that will add another interesting twist to the soap opera. As it is, amateur scouting has been a notorious problem with the Canucks for most of their 50 years and it finally appeared to be fixed.

We’ll find out soon enough if that fix is permanent.

ewilles@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/willesonsports

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