July 05 2014 09:44AM
While in Philadelphia for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Habs blogger Andrew Berkshire and myself hopped in a cab that already had two people in it. We started talking and it turned out those two other people were player agents Darryl Wolski of 2112 Hockey Agency and Aaron Schwartz of The Hockey Group.
Darryl and Aaron joined us on a lunch meet up and told us their stories and unique perspectives. While Darryl had been a player agent for a number of years, Aaron had only recently stepped aside from playing hockey to become an agent just six months ago.
Both agents agreed to an interview after lunch, sharing what it's like to be an agent, misconceptions of the job, how to get started, and more.
SD: What is Draft Day like for you?
DW: Oddly enough, it’s not that stressful because so many things are out of our control. That scouts have done their work, the General Managers and scouts for the teams have done their homework, and there’s not that much more we can do. Put it this way – we have no way of influencing anybody anymore.
AS: For me, I’m new. I’m six months into the job so it’s a learning experience. Just kind of watching, taking in. My perspective is a lot of the work is already done. If your players are in the draft it’s really, like Darryl said, out of your hands and up to the teams. They know what they’re looking for and it’s kind of fate after that.
SD: At what point do kids approach guys like you to get an agent?
DW: One of the first guys I approached at a young age was Quinton Howden who was drafted by Florida in the first round. I remember I approached Quinton was he was 13. I saw him playing at a hockey tournament in Brandon, Manitoba and I go “Who the hell is this kid?” Obviously Quinton played for Team Canada and he was a first round draft pick. Quinton is one of those kids that – maybe it seems unethical to be talking to kids when they’re 13 or 14 but honestly when they’re 13-14 this decision has to come up. Do you play major junior or do you play NCAA? For a lot of kids and parents, they just don’t really understand the process either. “If we play in the Western Hockey League for one exhibition game, that’s OK.” Well no, it’s not OK. You can’t be on a game sheet. You can’t sign an education agreement because then you are done in the NCAA. Sometimes kids are like late bloomers. They probably don’t need an agent until they’re 16, 17, 18, but normally the high-end kids, and you normally know who they are, need representation at 13-14 fairly soon.
SD: Do you go to those games for fun or to intentionally scout potential clients?
DW: My friends who know me, they’ll you I’m the world’s worst hockey scout, because I am. When I go to hockey games I’m texting, I’m emailing, people say “What do you think of that kid?” I don’t know, honestly. It’s not my job to be a scout, is what I tell people. My job is to get feedback from other guys – Western Hockey League, or NCAA coaches or USHL guys and say “Hey, what do you think about Jayce Hawryluk from the Brandon Wheat Kings?” I rely on their reports and stuff. They kind of give us the direction like “This kid’s good” or “This kid’s a bust.” So then we sometimes have to saddle our horse up to those guys who we think are good by a lot of the feedback we get. If it’s just me going to watch a guy, I’m terrible. I couldn’t tell you who’s a between defenceman between Dion Phaneuf or Cody Franson. Maybe most people can tell you that. Maybe the ISS guys can answer that question but I can’t.
SD: It's not just the draft that has you guys with your head in your phone these days. You guys are also involved with players in Europe and European prospects. What's this time of year like for them?
DW: I had to come upstairs to try to close a couple deals and do something with a couple of guys in Russia actually. Aaron can answer this, too – this is go time in Europe and Russia right now. A lot of the teams and players are waiting for July 1st. They’re going to say like “OK what kinds of spare parts are out there?” Is a guy like Ben Street going to be available? Is a guy like Drew MacIntyre going to be available? A lot of those top end American Hockey League guys. Will a guy like Chad Billins slip through the cracks in Calgary’s system? Maybe he’ll want to go to Russia to play for $800-900k. I personally can only hope so but I mean we have to put those pieces together. Then there’s the lower leagues for guys who are making $100k in Austria and Germany, Finland, or Sweden. Darryl Boyce, J.F. Jaques, those sort of guys. They’ve just realized that the grind of the American Hockey League is what it is. It’s a grind. Aaron’s done a couple of deals in Europe recently, too. A lot of guys are just tired of the American Hockey League.
AS: They get tired of the grind. Actually the easiest part of the job is these guys are already established, the scouting reports are done, they’re names are out there, the type of player that are and their reputation is well-known. With Europe it’s basically just getting our player in the right spot at the right time with a team that’s looking for that exact player. Most of the time, like Darryl said, it’s the guys that are just sick of the grind. The games-played during the year, the movement or revolving door, and they want the European experience to go out there, have fun, and have the opportunity to make a lot more money in most cases.
SD: I was going to say it's got to be at least a little money-driven because even though the KHL has fewer games they also have some incredibly long road trips.
AS: The grind is certainly still there but it’s counterbalanced by the enormous amounts of money they can make in one year. A top end guy in the AHL is looking at maybe $225-300k US dollars per year. They have to pay for their own expenses; their apartments and whatnot. They go over to the KHL and they’re making $500-600k to a million with everything included and that’s the major difference.
SD: What got you guys hooked on becoming agents? Or did this kind of happen by accident.
DW: For me personally, I kind of slipped into it about ten years ago. I saw a guy named Cody Eakin and I phoned Gerry Johannson at Edmonton. He and Rich Wynn at the time were partners. I said “Hey I’ve got a guy named Cody Eakin you should really go watch.” They said “Oh really?” He was 14 at the time and obviously Cody’s about to sign a new deal in Dallas. Cody turns out to be OK so right from that point on – like I said, I may not be the world’s best hockey scout, because I’m not. I’m not the world’s biggest hockey fan but for me, when I pull off a deal; if I can sign Cam Barker in Russia tomorrow, which I hopefully will, I’m doing fist pumps in the air! For me there’s no rush getting a deal done for the player. It’s not about making a commission. It’s about these guys are going to have a great situation, they can get big money, their families are happy. For me the rush of the transaction, the business end of the deal is it for me. And then if they have success it’s even more of a bonus. If they score 30 points in the KHL in Barys Astana or Admiral Vladivostok or whatever that’s a bonus. For me the thrill of the deal is my drug.
AS: That’s all true. I came from a different background. I was actually a player who really struggled to open doors so I had a lot of dependence on agents. I realized the importance of them. I connect well with my players because I was a player so I understand both sides real well. After hanging up the skates I’m still connected with the game. It’s really a passion right now. It’s something I want to do, eventually, completely full-time. Right now it’s part-time. It’s up early in the morning and it’s up late at night.
SD: What would you tell a somebody who is thinking about becoming an agent?
DW: Don't! Kidding. My background is I used to work in radio. When I worked in radio I got the same question. People would say “I’m thinking about getting into radio” and I’d say “No don’t do it.” Here’s the thing about being an agent: You have to have a skill set. If you can’t talk to people and you’ve got the personality of a thumbtack you’re not going to succeed. It’s not about being a lawyer or an accountant, which is great if you are, but I tell guys to be a successful agent it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have gone to Harvard. It means you need to have the ability and tenacity to go and be persistent with people to a point where you’re not being a vacuum salesman, no offence to vacuum salesmen. You have to be prepared for the long haul, I guess is what I’m saying. It has taken me five years. I run hockey tournaments and hockey leagues. That’s financed me doing this. You cannot quit everything you’re doing and go “You know what? I’m going to be the Jerry McGuire of hockey! Damn straight!” Well it doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t work like that at all. You’ve got to be able to cut some deals in Europe and Russia, make some commission off those things. It helps pay your travel bills, you go to Philly for the draft or travel bills to go to Minsk or Zagreb. That’s what I’ve been able to do. All the money I’ve been making on this, I’ve put it back into travelling and meeting with people.
AS: That’s huge, meeting people, which I haven’t been able to do yet. My credibility is not so much there right now but it’s getting there. It’s sales. You’re in sales and you get the door closed on you all the time. It’s just finding the right team at the right time. That’s basically how it’s worked out for me.
DW: I have one last thing to add. If you want to go to my Twitter account, which is @darrylwolski, I posted a story about Adrian Foster who is one of my clients and he was drafted 13 years ago today. It’s a great read about the NHL Draft. One last thing I would say is for any parents listening to this: Try to manage your expectations. That’s one thing I try to tell parents. Don’t be nine-years-old and going out and buying three Joe Sakic sticks that are $300 each and buying the best skates. Manage your expectations, take it in stride, and I always tell parents and kids – patience. Patience is really hard. Today’s day in age of website and blogging and Twitter and Facebook and I hear this kid is ranked number three in the world among 10-year-olds. There’s just no way there’s a ranking of 10-year-old players in the world but people believe it when they read this stuff for the 2019 Draft in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s impossible to do that. Just be patient, don’t read so much on the internet, just be patient, and try to manage things.
AS: I agree 100%.