SUN Hockey Pool

Player agents losing big money under new CBA

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:25 AM ET

RALEIGH -- These are not the best of days for hockey agents.

Many of them led the insurgence that resulted in the players' capitulation during the lockout so they could get back to work, but now, they're finding that the subsequent collective bargaining agreement doesn't help their situation.

First of all, there's the simple arithmetic.

If a team is limited to a $39-million US payroll, as was the case this season, the agents' cut of that payroll has to be less than was the case when some payrolls ran in excess of $75 million.

There's also the matter of bonus clauses. Under the new CBA, they're strictly mandated -- and a lot lower than they used to be.

The virtually unlimited bonuses for entry-level players are a thing of the past. Even the bonuses for veteran players, once a lucrative source of revenue for the agents, are gone.

And even though many of the agents are lawyers, the matter of ethics has to be considered.

A conflict of interest is frowned upon in legal circles and it's easy to see that if an agent has more than one client on a team, he's in a conflict situation.

Whether the payroll limit is $39 million, or the oft-proposed $45 million, or anywhere in between, it is a fixed amount.

So if an agent negotiates a deal for one client, any other is impacted. Under the old system, the agent could get as much as possible for one client, then do the same for the next.

But now, once he has negotiated the first contract, the amount available for the next client is reduced accordingly.

If, for instance, an agent gets $5.5 million for a defenceman, the team is quite likely to say to the agent: "We've already given one of your clients $5.5 million. We can't afford to give your next client what you'd like him to have."

There are fewer obvious conflicts on the league-wide level.

This year, the players didn't have to make escrow payments because the league set an arbitrary figure of $39 million that didn't require an escrow.

But if the salary cap goes up to $45 million next year, then the payroll amount will almost certainly exceed the 54% of revenues that has been mandated as the maximum.

This means, then, that escrow will kick in.

So if a player has a client who has a hefty long-term contract in place, he will want his agent to urge other clients to vote for a lower payroll.

That way, the player won't have to pay escrow.

But if the player is one of those who is looking for a new contract, he will want his agent to urge other clients to vote for a higher payroll. That way, he'll have a better chance of getting his big contract.

And with the upper levels being clearly established -- no matter what that level might be -- there are a number of high-level players who will say that they don't need an agent.

If an agent is taking 3% of a contract, which has been the norm, he'll get $210,000 off a $7-million deal.

But the high-level players have a pretty good idea of where they fit in the new artificial system.

Why bother to pay an agent?

You know you're not going to get all the fancy bonuses that agents used to pry out of a team. So you keep the 3% for yourself and blow off the agent.

And to make matters worse, a lot of players are balking at that 3% figure. There is so little flexibility allowed under the CBA, they say, there is no need to give such a large cut to the agent.

All you really need is a lawyer who works for a flat hourly rate and you'll end up far ahead.

So for all these reasons, the economic face of the National Hockey League is changing. The happy time for the agents came during the Bob Goodenow years when he increased salaries by about 900%.

Now he's gone -- and so are the big bucks for the agents.


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