Agent works for player, not spouse

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

Hockey agents are in the business of ensuring their players are happy, not just rich.

But while Edmonton-based Ritch Winter will do everything he can to ensure his clients end up in the best situation possible, on and off the ice, he stops short of involving the wives.

Only in rare instances has he seen a reason to involve the spouse. Hockey wives knew what they were in for when they married a hockey player, he said, and the good ones accept relocation as part of the territory.

"For the most part, they're prepared to go where their husbands go," said Winter.

"Because they recognize it's why they have the lifestyle that they do.

"If the money and the opportunity are equal in two cities, if St. Louis is offering $1 million and Edmonton is offering $1 million, that's when the wives might become more involved."

And even then, it usually isn't from an informed position. The player will have seen both cities a dozen times on road trips, while some wives couldn't even point them out on a map.

"There are wives who don't want to be in small cities, but that's because they don't know what they provide," said Winter.

"I have no trouble selling Edmonton because it may be the only thing (Oilers GM) Kevin Lowe and I have agreed on in the last decade.

"Radek Dvorak left Edmonton not because he disliked Edmonton, but because he wasn't going to be afforded the opportunity to play on the top two lines. We spent the summer trying to find that opportunity for him somewhere else."

Winter says a misconception about small market, winter cities not being desirable locations is based on money, the old CBA, rather than the cities themselves.

"It's uninformed to think that Edmonton isn't a popular destination," Winter said.

"It hasn't been popular in the past because the difference in money was too great. New York was offering $10 million and Edmonton was offering $4 million."

Now that the money is equal in a lot of instances, players and their agents spend more time examining other determining factors.

"We spend a lot more time focusing on quality of life," he said. "They're not a whole lot different from the rest of us - they want their kids to go to good schools."

He says he'd never steer a player away from a small market, especially Alberta, where teams are closer, streets are safer and tax benefits are enormous.

"There's more camaraderie here," he said. "Every player needs to play in Canada for a few years ... All of us would ask for a little shorter winter but you can't have everything."likes the shopping malls.

"You hope she's going to be happy but the main thing is: Is the player going to be happy?" said Muckler.

"As far as the wives are concerned, we try to accommodate them when they come to the community, give them everything they need to help settle in.

"And we like to see them get involved, with charities, for example, and work along with the hockey club.

"One of the major problems a wife can have is she kind of gets shut off from everybody.

"We try and open it up for them, introduce them to the city and its people."

Making the wives feel welcome is about as involved as any GM wants to get.

That's not about to change in the wake of Pronger's deal because a wife forcing a trade is a once-in-a-decade anomaly that doesn't reflect the NHL's player-wife dynamic.

"Prior to a guy signing somewhere, he's going to sit down with his wife and family and say, 'Is this the place we want to go?' " said Rutherford. "They will have made those decisions long before they sit down to finalize a deal with us."

And because salary-cap issues can severely reduce the number of potential suitors, picking and choosing isn't always an option.

If a player and his gal want to limit their search to west- coast sunbelt teams with room in the budget for a 31-year-old winger making $3.9 million, they could be waiting a while.

From Rutherford's experience, it's only when two teams are after the same player, and the opportunity and the money are equal, that secondary factors such as lifestyle and climate come into play.

"Lifestyle is important," he said. "But let's face it, no matter where you go, you're going into a good situation. We've got big markets and small markets, Canadian cities and U.S. cities, warm- weather cities and winter cities - in some ways they're different but there are no bad cities in the NHL.

"If it's about playing in a warm climate, then, yes, a player will want to play in Florida before he wants to play in Canada."

Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, who still has the burn marks from last summer, doesn't have a whole lot of sympathy for homesick wives, either.

"You're in the National Hockey League, you make a lot of money and these moves are only for a short period of your life," he said.

"Family can come visit you. You're welcomed into the new team. I'm probably going to come off sounding like Blackheart ..."

Not that they aren't concerned about the personal well-being of their players' families - if there are serious issues to be dealt with, GMs are there to help - but it's a highly competitive business, not a social club.

If a player ever wanted out because he and his wife longed for the sunny beaches, Muckler says he'd help the guy pack.

"I haven't heard of any players wanting to walk away for those reasons," he said.

"But if you're thinking about the warm weather, hockey is not your top priority. You don't want that player anyway."


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