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An agent can be your ally
By Kenneth W. Biedzynski & Anthony McCaskey

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In the last couple of articles we have talked about what players who aspire to get to the NHL can do to improve their chances to "make it." Thus far the focus has been on what attributes teams look for from the players themselves.

In this installment, we’ll talk about other ways, beyond attributes, a player can improve on his odds. One of the best ways for an NHL prospect to increase his chances of being drafted is to hire the services of an agent. I’ll explain why.

Although the services of an agent are not essential, for players either coming out of junior or college hockey, the agent can be a valuable ally. The two main reasons why agents are preferred in negotiations for NHL prospects are 1) contacts and 2) knowledge.

Business contacts

In terms of contacts, the agent, depending upon his or her experiences, can open many doors for prospects by making important calls to important people.

For example, some agents are former players such as Bobby Orr. Can you imagine the general managers and coaches that someone like Bobby Orr knows? Also part of the agent’s contacts in his/her reputation. Again, consider a recommendation from someone like Bobby Orr.

In sum, the agent’s contacts (developed through years of experience) can be of valuable assistance to the player striving to make it to the NHL.

In terms of the agent’s knowledge, the agent’s role cannot be understated. Although players do sometimes conduct their own negotiations, the agent is recommended because of the complex nature of contract negotiations. It is important that negotiations be handled in a professional manner so that the player does not take a deal which is not in his best interests, either long term or short term.

Knowledge of laws

In the NHL, any contract negotiator (either player or agent) must have a working knowledge of collective bargaining agreements, NHL By-Laws and the various types of NHL contracts. Additionally, the agent’s knowledge is also critical in understanding free agency.

For example, in the NHL (according to the By-Laws) there are essentially four types of free agents: 1) total free agents; 2) free agents with compensation; 3) players entering their option years; 4) first contracts for rookies.

The total free agency negotiation is the easiest. That is the situation where a player can sign with any team and no form of compensation is owed to the player’s former team. The free agent with compensation is a much more complicated negotiation. In that situation a club signing a free agent owes either compensation or "equalization" to the player’s old team.

Compensation can mean either a draft pick or cash. (For those fans who can recall the New Jersey Devils trading Brendan Shanahan to the St. Louis Blues can also remember that the two teams could not agree on "equalization" and an arbitrator decided that Scott Stevens was of "equal" value. That ruling was devastating.)

Rookie contracts

Finally, and pertinent to this discussion, are the rookie contracts. These negotiations differ from veteran negotiations. For players coming from junior hockey, compensation is, to a large degree, based on the player’s draft position and contracts usually come within one year being drafted.

For college players (who generally have more playing years under their belt than their junior counterparts) the contract is based on post-draft performance. Thus, draft position can be outweighed by exceptional performance. Therefore, it is not impossible for two players (one late-round college pick and one junior counterpart) to sign markedly different contracts.

Next there is the issue of salary arbitration which is binding in the case of junior players. In the case of a college player, however, if the arbitrator’s decision is rejected, the college player is a free agent without compensation. Thus, the negotiator must be thoroughly familiar with the rules of negotiation, which if not understood and properly applied to the situation could affect the player’s compensation and future options.

In light of the foregoing, players aspiring to get to the NHL should consider the services of an agent who can really help map the route. Part of the mapping is understanding the signs along the way. And more importantly, an agent can help the player prepare for detours which inevitably pop up.

The authors are practicing attorneys and principals of International Sports Associates, a consulting firm specializing in risk management.



This first appeared in the 09/1997 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2003, Hockey Player® LLC and Hockey Player Magazine®
Posted: Jan 3, 2002, 14:47
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