Aiming For The Top! – Episode 9: Trade Deadline

This is an in depth weekly series that chronicles the quest of a boutique hockey agency, VSM Hockey, to reach the top of the NHL hockey agent world. Its story is narrated by its president and founder, Nikolaï Ray.

This last week, just like all the others, has gone by way too fast! My time was spent mostly trying to make first contact with a couple of elusive prospects and following up with players with whom we have already had rapports with. It is a slow and tiresome job, but just like anything else, perseverance mixed in with patience, hard work and faith are the key to long term success!

Last Friday, Michel Leclerc (our G.M.) and I spent the afternoon with Gary Lalancette, VSM’s mental coach. Gary is an amazing individual and professional, who combines a lot of modern science with non-traditional techniques in his coaching of our athletes. He focuses mostly on the athlete’s vital energy, a concept very common and well-known among Asians (the Chinese call this Chi). He teaches athletes how to be in touch with their emotions, rather than trying to always control them, simply guiding them and teaching them to use their true power. He also focuses a lot on visualisation, breathing techniques and regeneration. Gary is definitely a major competitive advantage for VSM, the work that we are doing with him is at the avant-garde of hockey player development.

On the pro’ side of things, I am relieved to say that all is well with our goalie. He ended up in the ECHL and is quite happy. This has been a real test for him, and he is learning to live in the present and not worry about the future. This can really serve as a lesson to everyone in the hockey world, especially players and agents. We often worry so much about what is going to happen or could happen that we forget to appreciate and live in the moment, which is ultimately detrimental to performance and happiness. My message to our goalie is that everything happens for a reason. Changing teams 3 times in 2 weeks despite a standout rookie season is not the end of the world! He does not control any of the trades and call-ups that caused all this. It is essential that players learn how to focus solely on what they control and not worry about the rest. I feel that this situation was and is a necessary learning experience for him and that in the long run, it will serve him well in his quest to reach the NHL!

Also, we have been spending time working out the logistics of our summer development program for our players, scheduling and reserving ice time, gym time, coaches and specialists, etc. This is a very time consuming practice but it is necessary in order to not waste time in the summer and make sure that our guys get all the development that they can ingest. Let’s not forget, the essence of VSM is development! No matter how many NHL players other agencies have, I guarantee that we are the best equipped to help a junior or midget player become an NHL’er. I also feel that we are the best equipped to help prolong a pro’ player’s career. Imagine adding 3 years on a players’ career. How many agencies can claim to have that expertise? None that I know of! I am working hard to have the chance to prove this in the not too distant future, as even though my confident and sometimes misperceived arrogant demeanour may be a mouthful to some, I am always willing to back up what I am saying with concrete actions! I believe very deeply in the work done at VSM and my passion is unquestionable!

Finally, I wanted to talk a bit about the NHL trade deadline. As a fan, I am a bit disappointed to see that there were not many transactions. However, as a thinker and philosopher, I am quite pleased. I feel that making too many trades at this point of the season can be very dangerous in terms of a team’s dynamics. Relationships are very important when considering the whole team concept, and making changes can be difficult. Also, I am reminiscent of loyalty. I feel that this is a key human value, unfortunately often forgotten in today’s society. Many will argue that this is part of business, but I disagree. I run two successful businesses and I guarantee that without loyalty, we would not be where we are today!

I encourage players, agents, general managers and owners to remember what makes us essentially who we are, and loyalty is a foundational principle. Yes, money is a determining factor in the hockey business, but it does not have to come at the expense of loyalty and honesty. I am horror-struck when I see players who have spent most of their careers with one organisation, leave and sign with another, for a couple hundred thousand dollars more. You see, money cannot be the only factor when calculating the risk involved with switching teams. You have to re-gain the trust of your new coach, management, team mates and fans. As the saying goes, “the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence”. When I advise a player, money is definitely taken into consideration, but so are many other factors. What is the point of making more money if you end up being unhappy with your new team, or city.

Even worse, what happens if you do not manage to get in their good graces? A player whom I knew, had spent the last 4 years of his career with an NHL team, say for example, Calgary. He was appreciated by the coach, management, players, fans and he loved the city. His role on the team was well known and stable. With the guidance of his agent, he ends up signing with San Jose during his free agency. The crazy thing here is that he signed with San Jose for only $350,000 a year more than what Calgary was offering. So instead of signing a 2 year 1.6 million dollar contract with his team, he left for a 2 year 2.3 million dollar contract. Seems like the right move? Wrong! He ended up in San Jose, with a coach who ended up not liking his style of play. Within 3 months, he went from being a regular 4th line faceoff specialist to a 5th line press box specialist. San Jose bought out his contract at the end of the season. That was it for him… see he was not a superstar, so there were tons of guys able to fill his spot. At the young age of 28, that was the end of his NHL career. He ended up playing another 5 years in Europe… ending his career prematurely due to a back injury. So, this very tragic story shows that money cannot be the sole factor when considering signing with one team or another. Advising a professional hockey player in regards to his career is a very delicate and demanding job; it necessitates logic and quite a bit of planning and thoughtful thinking! Do you guys get my point here? Please feel free to answer; I think it is a great point of discussion, I would like to find out everyone’s opinion on this subject.