There are numerous factors why NHL teams are investing a large portion of their budget toward scouting: salary cap limitations, expansion of European scouting departments and the growing number of hockey programs in the U.S just to name a few. The average NHL team scouting department employs 8-10 full time amateur/pro scouts. The Montreal Canadiens employ 13 scouts who work various regions of North America and Europe (see http://www.canadiens.com/eng/team/redirect.cfm?sectionID=habsOfficeStaff.cfm&categoryID=20). The New Jersey Devils employ 20 scouts which explains why they draft well and find a lot of late round gems.
General managers need to continually replenish their NHL and minor league team rosters in order to replace players who become too expensive under the new salary cap limitations. Building a strong prospect pool allows teams to have more trading options, eliminate themselves of unwanted players/salaries (can you say Sergei Samsonov) and remain competitive with other teams.
One of the first things Bob Gainey did when he became GM of the Canadiens was to expand the scouting department and put a stronger emphasis towards player development within the organization. The Habs are starting to develop NHL caliber players and have enough prospects to give them many options for possible trades or replacement of overpriced talent. Last year, the Hamilton Bulldogs were a shared AHL affiliate with the Edmonton Oiler as the Canadiens did not have enough AHL ready prospects to fill the roster. This past season, the Habs were able to supply a full roster of prospects to the Bulldogs who are now the sole AHL affiliate of the Canadiens ( and in the Calder cup). The Canadiens also have a few prospects playing for the Cincinnati Cyclone of the ECHL. The Canadiens were recently ranked #2 in the NHL with regards to prospects in their system by Hockey’s Future (see http://hockeysfuture.com/articles/9672 ). In 2006, they were ranked #6 among NHL organizations so things are looking quite good for our beloved Habs and their future endeavors thanks to the hard work of the scouting department.