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PACE, PACE, PACE!

August 17th, 2017

“What should I improve in my game go get to the NHL?” A question I answer almost every day in my job as an NHL agent… The answer may have varied a bit over my last 18 years of doing this job, but the constant theme that is resoundingly stressed and never going away is: “Find a way to do everything at a high pace, and when you get there, do it even faster”. Welcome to the new NHL, a game of fast paced action, filled with ever younger talent, and professionals that work on every meticulous detail 12 months a year. The “clutch and grab” style that dominated the game until the late 90’s is gone, the “training camp is for getting in shape” mentality of the 80’s is far gone, this game is super-fast, and will only get faster. With the new high paced game also comes a faster pace of churning through bodies. Where the NHL neophytes used to have a 3 to 5-year window to prove they belonged, now the clock has accelerated to about 18 months to get your passport stamped to the minors or Europe. Teams and management have less patience, younger players are better prepared, and the salary cap driven economics of the game have left only a sliver of the proverbial window open, slicing down like a guillotine every few seconds on a NHL hopefuls’ neck, before they even get a taste of the game in the “Show”.

Now that most of the salary cap dollars are pushed to every NHL team’s premiere players (top 2 lines, top 3 Defensemen and a starting goalie), the middle class of the NHL is getting pushed out, often replaced by cheaper, lesser established, and younger players. Veteran players fight every day to keep their roster spot. The fans seem to love the new game, yet we can’t seem to move the needle much towards a younger TV viewership demographic, which is sorely needed. Major League Baseball pundits will point to the creation of MLBAM, their online marketing and streaming platform, which now counts the NHL as one of its clients, as a jump starter to a new audience and younger demographic. While most “traditionalist” NHL executives sit on the sidelines and watch leagues like the NBA create alliances with and invest in Esports properties and events, driving the average age of their fans down, the league and the union bemoan the lack of growth in our sport (i.e. missed opportunity with next 2 Olympics in Asian markets).

In the NHL, 32 is the new 38, as players are forced to reinvent their role and value in the marketplace, specializing in special teams, face offs, shot blocking, etc. in order to stay relevant vs the young guns nipping at their heels. Veteran players are forced to train harder, eat smarter, and spend more time on the ice in the off-season, more than ever before. It’s good for teams and owners as opportunities become more compressed and young talent abounds. This whole evolution of the game has a bittersweet feel for many involved. Veterans no longer feel safe, yet rookies are excited about the possibilities. Fans are not sure how long that jersey of their favorite player will remain relevant, yet the fast-paced action is more fun to watch. Many would profess that competition at all levels is good because it forces us all to be at the top of our game, sharp and aggressive, yet when we notice a legend like Jaromir Jagr struggle to find a job this Summer, we are reminded that the evolution of all pro sports will not slow down for any legend to hop back on.

As an agent, I enjoy the challenge, and have altered the course of our agency over the last few years to focus more on development of our young clients, and the longevity of our veteran clients, offering a suite of tools that are needed for these athletes to keep up with the pace of the game. I have also turned to advanced stats, detailed video, mental resiliency coaching, and deep hockey knowledge to not only equip clients with the right tools for improved performance and longevity, but also to guide them toward the right situation (team style of play, coach, fit within roster, etc.). Everyone’s role seems to be evolving or changing, and teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins are a great example of building a system first, and plugging in the pieces later. Specific players have specific roles within their organization, all fitting the “play with pace” philosophy, so well that they could achieve the ultimate goal of Lord Stanley’s Cup again. Just as we have had to adjust how we develop and prepare our clients, change our approach to marketing to involve technology and social media, and even change how we manage their expectations on the concierge level, the players have had to adjust to a new NHL, always battling for their jobs and reinventing themselves to stay relevant within the sport. The pace is lightning fast and not slowing down, now let’s hope that its effect is viral and pushes the executives and owners of the NHL to grow the sport more swiftly…

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