I’ve been asked numerous times to expand on the topic of agents and their role. I had written one of my first articles on the importance or need for an Agent or Family advisor in context of the NCAA path. While most of that article applies to ALL paths, there were certainly many topics that I could expand upon. Truth be told, I didn’t know where to start without sounding too self-serving. The biggest problem of course is that there isn’t a book or manual out there on HOW to BE AN AGENT! I do plan on writing that one day, but until then we will just have to settle for me trying to provide the broad strokes! Thankfully, Mr. B in Vancouver and Jody in Saskatchewan asked me some useful questions from which to build an expanded framework for this topic.
Those questions included: “What expectations one should have of an agent?”
I hear things anecdotally about advisor/client interactions with some of my Son’s friends, but I still don’t have a clear understanding of what we should expect from family advisors at this juncture in his career.” AND “In the WHL/CHL Does a Player at anytime require a player agent/advisor? Are there benefits to having one? Should he wait to be approached by one?”
These are tough questions and I’ll try my best! To answer them in depth! This looks to be a TWO part discussion. *For more info on the NCAA Family Advisor/Agent side of the question, please have a look at one of my first articles – Need for an Agent or Family Advisor
Today we will look at the Topics of: Day-to-Day Role of an Agent, Trades, NHL Draft & Post Draft. On Friday I will conclude this discussion by examining: 20 Year Old Season, ‘Extras’, Expectations & When to Approach an Agent, Costs.
1) Day-to-Day Role of an Agent
No a Player does NOT require an agent at ALL times. You have already decided on his hockey career path and the WHL is priority one. It also is clear you have signed with a club who owns your rights, so at the moment (this is a key point) you do not need help in finding a home.
However, your 2nd question of benefits is where things can get tricky. Firstly, I’ve had many Advocate readers this year already who were signed, got promised one thing and then found out the reality was somewhat different then what they had anticipated. They then did not know what to do, who to talk to or what options they had. Then, they as 16 or 17 year olds had to sit in the GM’s office in front of the Gm, Coach and assistants and negotiate their future. Hardly a level playing field or situation teenagers should have to deal with. It is useful to have someone who can deal with the club on your son’s behalf who isn’t at a ‘power’ disadvantage. An Agent shouldn’t be intimidated by a Coach or GM whereas a 17-18 year old will be unprepared for this type of interaction. Yes, it might be a good learning situation but he can’t afford to make mistakes with his future.
I’m not suggesting your club is underhanded or has nefarious plans, but it is a business and you have to be prepared for all eventualities. The benefit of an Agent is that you will have someone to ask these types of questions to. He should know what’s what and who’s who or in the very least be able to find out more information that you can. There are always minor problems, questions or concerns that pop up and having someone there who can quickly put out the fire and save the day has enormous value.
A large part of my job on the Agent side of things is simply answering questions, much like my role as the Hockey Advocate. In fact, it was because most people need a lot of basic information that they can’t get or find and who do NOT really need an agent, that I decided to launch this newsletter. Also it is important to understand that I do NOT have ALL the answers, but a good agent who is professional should be able to call up a random coach they don’t know and find out Who, What, Where and Why with little difficulty or fanfare.
2) Trades / Problems
When problems arise and an Agent is unable to facilitate a reconciliation between the Player and Club, then a trade may become the best alternative. It is for this contingency where you are most likely to need an agent throughout your son’s career. Ideally, he will remain with his club for his entire Junior career, but that might not be ideal or possible. If things become untenable for whatever reason (no ice time; unfulfilled promises; injury; bad chemistry etc…) you will need someone to facilitate a trade. Once again, management can and will intimidate their players for their own benefit and in these types of instances a player needs to distance themselves and their ‘character’ from the situation and have the heavy lifting done by a representative. Taking heat for my client and being the bad guy is part of my job description, if need be. Having an Agent who can quietly shop you around to the rest of the league (or other tier II jr A clubs if need be) without causing turmoil or getting anyone in trouble for tampering is beneficial. I can call a rival GM and discuss you indirectly without issue, you calling directly can be tantamount to tampering.
If he is likely to be drafted – you need someone to promote and market your player. There isn’t a single agent that can move you from the 5th rounder to the 1st overall pick based upon charm and connections, but getting you moved up 5-10 spots on the overall draft list from the mid-season to final rankings isn’t impossible. Let’s face it, after the first 2-3 rounds, the rest is a crap shoot. The better spin an agent can get out there about you, the better chance you have of catching someone else’s eye. However, NO ONE gets you ‘drafted’ or a Contract because they are friends with the GM. Simply put, that’s CRAP!! Yes, a favour might get you a camp invite or a second look by the regional scout, but its business and no Business Person gives out free money because they like your agent…. However, when all things are equal between you and ten other players, if they buy what your agent is selling, you may stand-out just enough from that equal crowd to be selected.
So you didn’t get drafted, big deal, with the NEW CBA, more players are getting pro looks at a later age.
You need someone to get you a NHL rookie or prospect camp spot, so you can get on the radar or possibly sign a free agent deal. This could be as soon as the week after the draft or when you are 19 or 20 and have better established your pro potential. Teams do in fact reach out directly to players but much like in my NCAA example, the MORE options you have the better for you as the one team that calls you might not be the right fit for your career. Therefore, if you have someone effective to promote you to ALL NHL GM’s/Head Scouts, the more potential opportunities you will have down the road when the time is right.
Extras & Fringe Benefits
Well, this is the ‘grey’ area. Some agents give away sticks and skates, some CASH, others promise future contract riches or Mega-endorsement guarantees. Some are just competent professionals who do their job with a high level of expertise and skill and don’t have to resort to ‘disreputable’ tactics. The fact is, it really depends on how good the player is and how likely and soon there will be a return on your investment. If he is a 1st-2nd round CHL draft pick, he is 50-50% to get drafted by the NHL according to the stats we looked at in past WHL articles. And, also, most likely to be a top 1-3 rd NHL pick as well IF drafted. If he is going the NCAA route, he has 4 more years of NOT earning you income to look forward to and the everyday risk of losing him to someone else. The point I’m trying to make is that depending on the agent or agency, they may or may not have more resources to spend or less scruples in how they ‘spend’ their money to recruit you and help develop your career. The fact that rookie contracts in the NHL are now more or less Capped, you don’t need the BEST negotiator to get the best possible deal. However, people are motivated by many different things, from prestige to wealth to competence. What matters to you?
What SHOULD they provide you?
In general, having an agent is like any other relationship. You need to develop it and build trust and friendship. At the end of the day, you want someone who is competent, who can deliver on his promises and help to create and exploit opportunities for your Player. Don’t be dazzled by all the song and dance. Just because they have a big name player, doesn’t mean you will get the same priority, exposure or representation.
If you think getting a free pair of skates or an extra stick or autograph or phone call from one of his NHL Clients is the most important factor, then don’t be disappointed when music stops and you are left without a chair to sit on.
And PLEASE for the love of mike….don’t be #178 on some big name agent’s list of players. I know this is a mid level agents pet-peeve, but just think about it. You want the best service possible. Do you really think that someone who costs them money and who isn’t likely to get them 1st rd draft pick money is as valuable as their NHL all-star who is bringing in $400-500,000 a year in commission? Not likely. Find someone who is competent and who values you and will help you effectively.
Agents Point of View
Let’s briefly consider this whole situation from my point of view as an Agent. Knowing why they act the way they do or how they are going to conduct themselves is a useful tool as well.
You have to understand the risk I and all agents take with most prospects and how that might affect our outlook. They say the stock market is hard. Let’s say I sign a player at the WHL Bantam Draft and then I work with that player and family for the next 5 years. I would spend that time providing useful advice, contacts, various expert services, legal and otherwise. Throughout it all, if I am acting ‘morally’ and without going outside of the NHLPA regulations, I effectively see NO income until the Player turns professional. However, in practice, as NHLPA Agent contracts are NOT what the average person would consider a typical contract, Players have the ability to fire their current agent, by fax, with no explanation or tears, as long as they are paid up to date. Therefore, there is nothing that stops that player after receiving 5 years of loyal service to fire his agent on the spot and sign with another more high profile agency the day before he signs his pro deal. This would in effect leave me out in the cold with ZERO return on a 5 year investment. This is how the game is played at the NHL level. You see when Don Meehan loses a player to Pat Brisson, he doesn’t really lose any sleep since he has 100+ other clients to pay the bills and quite frankly, he can go out and steal another player from someone else and all is right in the world. However, when I as a middle level agent lose a top client to another ‘corporate raider’ I can’t just go steal another top player from one of the big guys. The result is I just lost 5 years of sweat, blood and toil. Poor baby, I know… But that’s the business. That’s the daily cost and risk of doing business in this industry. This concept and reality should give you some idea as to where an agent is coming from and perhaps why he might act as he does.