For the first time in almost 30 years, a hockey season will begin and Tim Bernhardt will not be scouring rinks in North American and Europe looking for hockey talent. And that’s too bad because he’s one of the best in the business.
But these things happen sometimes. It’s not anyone’s fault and there are no black hats here, but it’s a little unfortunate. The Arizona Coyotes could be on the cusp of something special in the next couple of years and Bernhardt, who has run their past five drafts as the director of amateur scouting, will not be a part of it after he and the organization announced they have parted ways.
To his credit, Arizona GM John Chayka assessed the situation in his front office and came to the conclusion that things were ultimately not going to work between Bernhardt and newly hired assistant GM Lindsay Hofford. So rather than force a relationship between the two that likely wouldn’t have been productive for anyone involved, Chayka has essentially allowed the 60-year-old Bernhardt out of the last year of his contract and the organization will continue to pay him.
And it’s a good thing for Bernhardt, who has expressed a desire to cut back his workload anyway. In terms of the travel and the hours they log during the season, scouting is almost as demanding as playing. These guys spend countless hours in cars often driving through less-than-ideal weather, waiting in airport lounges and spending huge chunks of time away from their families. A year of not doing that will, at the very least, give a guy like Bernhardt some time to reset and recharge before he determines his future in the game. At worst, it gives him a glimpse into how the retirement lifestyle looks.
In the meantime, if there’s a team looking for a regional scout who has years of experience and has unearthed some outstanding middle-round gems, getting Bernhardt would be a coup. An undersized goalie who is in the Quebec League Hall of Fame and defied the odds by having a 12-year pro career that included 67 NHL games, Bernhardt has always been one of the game’s hardest-working scouts, from his start with the league’s Central Scouting Bureau in 1990 and through his tenures with the Dallas Stars and Coyotes. (Bernhardt has done some particularly good work in the fifth round of the draft, with the crown jewel of his career being the selection of Jamie Benn in 2007. Marty Turco in 1994, Mike Smith in 2001 and John Klingberg in 2010 were also fifth-round picks.)
And he had done a good job stockpiling young talent for the Coyotes, collecting assets that should make them a playoff contender in the next couple of seasons. In THN’s 2018 Future Watch edition, the Coyotes ranked third league-wide on the strength of their prospects and under-21 NHL talent. But sometimes that’s not enough. The Coyotes haven’t made the playoffs in six years and sometimes there’s a need for a new approach. To that end, Chayka brought Hofford in to assist him after the latter’s contract was not renewed by the Toronto Maple Leafs and with a background in identifying young talent, Hofford was bound to put his stamp on the scouting department. And both Hofford and Bernhardt, who had already worked the World Junior Summer Showcase and the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup for the Coyotes, came to see that it wasn’t going to be a good fit.
“In recent years the Coyotes have acquired a good group of young players that it looking poised to take the next step,” Bernhardt told TheHockeyNews.com. “When a new assistant GM comes in, he is allowed to change the scouting template, the philosophies, the methods. You either believe in them or you don’t. For me, it was time to move on.”
This might be looked at as an eye-test vs. analytics clash, given Chayka’s expertise in the former, but really it was more a matter of philosophy. As the new assistant GM, Hofford has every right to make the changes he sees fit and, with the confidence of the GM behind him, make whatever changes he feels are necessary. And Bernhardt, who has years of scouting experience and a solid reputation behind him, had the right to dissent.
The Coyotes, who you may have noticed have a few money issues, could have penny-pinched and forced Bernhardt to work under an arrangement that would not have been good for anyone. Instead, led by Chayka, they handled it like a mature big-league organization. Good on them for doing that.