The following interview is with Tobin Wright a certified NHLPA contract advisor and CEO and President of Vision Hockey LLC in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Connect with Tobin on Twitter.
Tobin Wright is a motivated NHLPA agent that firmly believes in putting his clients first because representation is all about the client, not the agent. Tobin is young, but he continues to work as hard as he can to provide each of his clients the best opportunity to succeed on and off the ice.
Tobin grew up playing hockey in Western Canada where he always had the dream of being involved with hockey in some capacity. Tobin was first afforded that opportunity when the NHL created a new team, the Wild, in Minnesota. Tobin worked for the Wild in a management role for 3 years. After receiving his certification as an NHLPA agent in 2005, he decided to make the move from the front office to player representation, establishing Vision Hockey. Since that time, Vision Hockey has had tremendous success, representing many top-notch NHL players such as Marian Gaborik (Los Angeles Kings) and Brent Burns (San Jose Sharks).
In addition, Vision Hockey has a unique partnership with longtime hockey agent, Ron Salcer. Salcer is a veteran in the business and is known as one of the best negotiators. He has had a long career in agency that started back in 1981 and he was certified as an NHLPA agent in 1996. Salcer has represented Dave Taylor, Pavel Bure, and Rob Blake to name a few. Tobin’s ever-growing knowledge of the game, coupled with Salcer’s experience provides substantial value to any player seeking representation.
Josh Corriveau: What was the process like to transition from an NHL management role to sports agent?
Tobin Wright: I started off in hockey operations with the Minnesota Wild and I have an NHL background in management and hockey operations. During the lockout in the 2004-2005 season I was an acting agent and became certified with the NHLPA. I had opportunities to get into the agent side of things prior to being in management and hockey operations but I just felt that at that time, being a young guy and having limited understanding of the management side of things, I had an unbelievable opportunity to learn and grow. I went with it and it worked out well because Minnesota was a new franchise and I got a lot of unique experience and wore many hats. That opportunity ended up being a great way to learn a lot.
Josh Corriveau: When did you decide to establish your own NHL agency, Vision Hockey, and how did you establish a partnership with Ron Salcer?
Tobin Wright: I had opportunities to talk to other agencies, but Ron was already a great connection and had a few players from the Wild. I had watched him periodically with those guys as they dealt with the team and he always fought hard for his clients. He seemed like he did things in the right way and is one of the best negotiators in the game. I reached out to Ron about the possibility of working together. Ultimately, we ended up creating a partnership with my agency Vision Hockey and we work extremely well together.
Josh Corriveau: What services does Vision Hockey provide? What companies have you negotiated with for endorsement deals?
Tobin Wright: It is a full-service firm. I have negotiated over 1 million dollars in deals for our NHL players with numerous companies, including Upper-Deck, Panini, Reebok, Easton, and Subway.
Josh Corriveau: What is your greatest strength as an NHLPA contract advisor?
Tobin Wright: It is my genuine loyalty along with understanding of how to draft a player on a team and understanding what it really takes for a player to make it in the NHL that makes me effective. I understand what scouts look for in a player and what players teams want to draft. Also, I have thorough understanding of the interview process. Everything I learned in my management role with the Wild is what sets me apart. It is one of the best things I can offer players and their families.
Josh Corriveau: In your opinion what are the advantages to representing players in the NHL, as compared to the other three major professional sports (MLB, NBA, NFL)?
Tobin Wright: We are really fortunate that hockey players are usually hard working guys from hard working families and the sport itself does not put individuals first. In other sports, there tends to be more of a sense of individualism. I do not want to knock any other sport, I am just very lucky in hockey because these guys are very loyal, they have good upbringings, and they have learned strong values and stick to them. I am not saying there is not that in other sports but hockey really prides itself on those values.
The NHL is different too in many respects. The game is intense and these players are high-caliber athletes because they are hitting like football players, but they are on blades. For example, in the NHL players have only around 45 second shifts before a line change because of how much the game takes out of them in that short period of time.
Josh Corriveau: Can you describe the competitive nature among NHL agents? Are there opportunities for new agents to break into the industry?
Tobin Wright: It is very competitive just like every other sport. It tends to be very cutthroat. People are always forming relationships with your clients. I have been fortunate to have a boutique style agency and we have personal relationships with all of our clients. They become part of what we call the “vision hockey family.” That is important. One of the biggest things is to educate players on that and make sure you are in constant communication with them. That seems to be the best way to keep you close to your guys and keep them loyal to you as well. But, it is very competitive and players are switching agents all the time. There is no real protection. The only benefit is that if you sign a player to a Standard Player Agent Contract and negotiate say a 3-year NHL contract, if a player is to switch agents during that term, then you [the former agent] is still entitled to the terms of that negotiated contract. That is the only protection.
I think there are a ton of agents already. We have around 700 players in the NHL. Those numbers are quite a bit smaller than the NFL and MLB, but I do think there could be opportunities. I do think there already are a lot of NHL agents, especially if you’re in area like here in the Midwest, where there are numerous agencies. It is rare when you go to a rink to scout a local game and there isn’t another certified agent or recruiter for an agency.
Josh Corriveau: Do you believe the NHL landscape will change in the future?
Tobin Wright: I do believe there is going to be a future expansion in the NHL. Also, now we have more teams in one conference than the other. I think it is inevitable to get to the same number of teams in the East and West. I do think that expansion is something that will happen. The game is just growing. You look at all these outdoor classic games, like the big winter classic game and the stadium series game, which provide big revenue for the league. Additionally, the NHL signed a substantial tv deal in Canada recently. Those types of things are showing that the game is really growing. I think that is going to really help our players with marketing opportunities. Slowly, but surely players will start getting major marketing deals just like they have in other sports.
Josh Corriveau: Most NHL players are born outside the U.S. What is the process like to recruit foreign players?
Tobin Wright: I have had clients from countries all over the world, mostly Eastern Europe. They are so eager to come over here and play North American style hockey. There tends to be a language barrier, but there is still the one variable there—the love for the game, whether the player is from Belarus, Finland or Slovakia.
Josh Corriveau: What advice do you have for people that want to pursue a career as an agent?
Tobin Wright: I would say explore internship opportunities. Use all your resources that you have to get a few minutes of time to speak with a certified agent. You just have to be a sponge. That is how I grew. I wanted to learn all about the business. Once I was able to be in a role with NHL management, I tried to be a sponge, especially when I was around people that have won Stanley Cups. That is the best thing you can do is to be a sponge and listen to everyone. When I was asked a question I would speak. Get involved. Some bigger agencies may have more opportunities.
Josh Corriveau: Does Vision Hockey currently offer internship opportunities?
Tobin Wright: Vision Hockey is considering establishing an internship. But, I haven’t established one yet. This is something my partner and I will work together on because we are very hands on in every aspect of our business.
Josh Corriveau: On behalf of SportsAgentBlog.com and all of our readers, I would like to thank Tobin Wright for sharing his unique path to becoming an NHLPA agent, as well as his knowledge about the sports industry. You can follow Tobin on Twitter @agentwright.