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In our How to Hockey Series we take a look at the top hockey agents in the business.
While scouts and coaches look first and foremost at a player’s talent and character, the backing or referral from the right agent can go a long way in terms of getting noticed and opening up opportunities. Whether its an initial introduction to a coach or a heads up to a scout to come take a look, its undeniable that agents can make an impact in recruits career.
That said, agents don’t have the best reputations in the industry. Take for example Alan Eagleson, a former hockey agent, lawyer and NHLPA founder who was caught stealing from the players union. Or take David Frost, best known as the alleged target of a murder-for-hire plot by one of his players, former St. Louis Blues forward Mike Danton.
As a warning, before you get too caught up in the agent hype make sure you read David Frost’s story or check out Theo Fleury’s shattering book “Playing with Fire” which painfully reveals how his minor hockey coach and agent sexually assaulted and psychologically abused him.
Yet amongst the agents whose reputations tear the industry’s image apart; there are respected professionals.
Aside from helping players get noticed, the big time agents focus on contract negotiation, financial management, tax and estate planning, summer training and development, entry draft preparation and making sure players are properly insured.
However, agents usually see their most important (and financially rewarding) task as branding and player promotion.
Because agents need a range of skills there is a lot to be said for the big agencies that have not only lawyers but professional marketing and branding experts.
On the other hand, the big agencies often don’t have time to pay adequate attention to younger emerging stars, who often go neglected.
Newport Sports Management is one of the industry giants, and certainly one of the most respected agencies. They boast players like Jerome Iginla, Dan Girardi, Matt Cooke, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Brad Richards and Zach Parise (to name only a few).
The company was started by industry legend Don Meehan who earned his bachelor’s degree at Sir George Williams University and a law degree from McGill University. After law school, Meehan was hired by the prominent Toronto law firm, Blaney, Pasternak who had a few hockey players as clients.
Declining the offer of a partnership from his law firm, Meehan decided in 1981 to create his own company that focused on hockey players (Newport Sports Management Inc.) and operated in a partnership with fellow agent Pat Morris. They now represent over 100 NHL players.
Instead of approaching players that are already in the NHL, Meehan approached the families of young talents before they were drafted in the NHL. One of the first young talents Meehan represented was Pat LaFontaine. LaFontaine hired Meehan a few months before the 1983 NHL Entry Draft and his career was underway.
Ritch Winter is the Founder and CEO of The Sports Corporation, based in Edmonton. Winter represents over 70 NHL’ers including Marian Hossa and Dominik Hasek.
Winter received a law degree from the University of Calgary in 1983. He began his career as a sports agent in the late 1980s in California before returning to Edmonton to launch The Sports Corporation. While in California, Winter worked with sports lawyer, Ted Steinberg whose clients at that time included Eugene Levy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, among others.
Winter played a role in the downfall of former National Hockey League Players Association Executive Director Alan Eagleson (see above). Along with Herb Pinder and Ron Salcer, Winter helped to lead the campaign that saw Eagleson’s resignation in 1992, and ultimately his conviction for defrauding his hockey players in 1989. In 2007, Winter helped Chris Chelios oust Ted Saskin as NHLPA director following accusations Saskin was monitoring players’ email.
In addition to helping to bring the National Hockey League Players’ Association leadership to task, Winter worked tirelessly at Carl Brewer’s request to help restore retired NHL players pension organizing an effort on behalf of Gordie Howe, Eddie Shack, Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull and others which ultimately resulted in retired players receiving $50 million from the NHL in an Ontario Court decision. Chicago’s Rinkside magazine once referred to him as the game’s “first player agent superstar”.
Founded in 1960 with a handshake between Mark McCormack and golf legend Arnold Palmer, IMG has grown into a global operation. It’s by no means hockey exclusive but is known for their superstar signing like Wayne Gretzky and Alexander Ovechkin.
Octagon claims to maintain the personalized touch traditionally found in only small firms but has proven successful time and time again.
Ben Hankinson acts as the Director of Player Representation for Octagon. Some of his clients include Dustin Byfuglien, Paul Martin, Jordan Leopold, Mike Lundin, Raitis Ivanans, Tim Jackman and John Scott.
Ben is a retired right winger who played 43 games in the National Hockey League for the New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning between 1993 and 1995. He was a First Team All-Star in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for the University of Minnesota in 1990. He retired from professional hockey in 1998.