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Blog Talk Radio (Song Playing) Welcome to the official Pro Hockey Weekly Podcast with your host, Gary Heikkila and Rotowire's own Darryl Houston Smith.
Well, good evening every one. We've got a fun show for you tonight including a special guest, Steve Bartlett. Bartlett is one of the premier agents in NHL. He runs the Sports Consulting Group. He has represents the players since 1984. Sports Consulting Group is up in Rochester, New York, and there is a little something that is different about Steve. Unlike most player agents, Steve is not a lawyer. His strength is he is a financial advisor. So, I would like to welcome NHL agent, Steve Bartlett. Hi Steve!
How are you guys tonight?
Pretty good Steve. First of all, congratulations on your longevity, 1984, being a player agent. That is a quite a long period of time.
Yeah, it has been a fun run, a long run. I have actually got to the point where now I am starting to represent the sons of my original clients. So, I do not know if that's good or bad and my own son, who is a lawyer now, works with me. So, no one can say that we don't have the legal connection. So, it has been a really good fun, almost 25 years now, I guess so.
Wow. That's fantastic. Well, let's get right to some of the questions. Steve, as an agent, do you feel that you have a certain responsibility to educate young prospects?
Well, absolutely. I think part of the role that we have for young players and older players alike is to try to educate them and prepare them for what they may face, not only in the business side of hockey, but also what they may face after hockey. So, we've always tried to sort of be an all-encompassing type agency, where we help them with their personal finances as you've mentioned, then the tax work, and the contract negotiations, but also try to keep them grounded in terms of the things that we've seen over the 25 years we've been doing that that may aid them and making the transitions both in the professional hockey and at the other hand transitions out of professional hockey.
Maybe you'd like to expand on that a little bit. Outside of education, could you briefly describe the agent's primary responsibilities in working with the young players?
Well, initially, I mean, I guess for better or for worse, the players we work with these days have gotten younger and younger. I'm not sure that's a good thing, but I think the competition in our business has sort of forced us all to talk to players a little bit younger. So, first and foremost, I try to keep the kids grounded that we're advising and just let them know that there is a pretty select number of people in the entire world, as you guys well know there are 720 athletes, that can play hockey at the NHL level. So I always say reach for the stars, but keep one foot firmly planted on the ground and don't forget things like education and all the other things that ultimately will back you up if you don't end up being one of those very elite few that play enough in the NHL and earn enough salary that they actually don't have to worry about it when they're done and those guys are few and far between.
Steve just one quick question. Okay. Getting back to talking about the younger players, especially the younger players, communication wise as far as like communicating with them, is it a 50-50 split or do you spend more time with the younger players, chasing them around, or is it one of these deals there where you are both communicating with each other all the time?
Well, we try. I would like to think that we're pretty accessible between myself and my son. We pride ourselves and kind be in 24/7. So, it goes both ways and then we certainly get those calls from guys that are going through a tough time or need some advice or even excited about a particularly good game they've played, but at the same time we spend an awful lot of time trying to keep up with our players wherever they may be and try to encourage them and support them when things aren't going well and call them with congratulatory phone calls. And in this day and age, as you all well know, text messaging seems to be the wave so...
I can be sitting at home after watching a couple of NHL games or somewhere on the road and start texting all these guys, "Hey, great goal!" or "Great save!" whatever the case may be, and just try to let them know that you are paying attention to what they're doing out there.
Steve, you mentioned that your son has joined you. Now, what did you think when Brian said, "Hey, I'd like to join up with you?"
Well, he's grown up around it. The kids get spoiled when they're playing knee hockey in the basement with Doug Weight or Brian Rolston over the years. For them, it wasn't a big deal because these were family friends as well as clients. So, both my boys have grown up and love the sport of hockey. So, it's really been fun for me to share that with them. And Brian, who is my oldest, had a pretty stellar academic record to go along with it. And like his dad, probably he didn't have the talent level to ever play professionally, but he seemed to enjoy working with me in the summer and helping me out. And I really appreciated the fact that he brought sort of a fresh young view to it and a very bright intellectual view on things we were doing. So, I was delighted when he said that he wants to join me, worked two years full-time, and then went back and finished law school here in the last few months, and now he is back to 100% full-time with me.
Nice. We're based in Boston so I would be remiss not to add that Brian went to the Boston University School of Law.
He did. He did. He graduated from Boston University School of Law and lives right down in the heart of the city, down near the Aquarium there. So, he's become a big Boston fan. I don't think we're getting him back to World Headquarters in Pittsford, New York anytime soon.
Oh. And you also have some New England roots as well as being from the University of Vermont.
Yes! Again, I went there with high expectations of playing professional hockey, but quickly realized that I may be the only one that thought I was good enough. So, my hockey career as a player was somewhat short lived, but fortunately my agent career has outlasted that and it has been fun. My younger son went to Middlebury College, went to National Championships and was the captain there, and has gone on to play a couple years in minor pro and East Coast League, and hopes to go to Europe this year. So, there is a lot of hockey around in our family. And fortunately, my wife has been gracious enough to become a fan in her own right. So, it's either that or join the bus or get left behind, I think.
Well, it was certainly a great move on your part as far as like you said your hockey career because I guess you had definitely good hindsight on that one considering how important the agency representation has become for the players.
Well, it's a little bit of luck I guess.
I never really set out honestly initially to be a player agent. I was helping friends that were professional players and my finance and tax background allowed me to help them in some areas, and finally one guy said, "Hey, go do my contract with Scotty Bowman," and that was sort of the backdoor start of my career and before you knew it, my phone was ringing off the hook from referrals of other players. And I never did any recruiting at all for the first few years, and suddenly, I said I guess I'm a hockey agent. So, 25 years later, more contracts. And I'd like to remember right now what players have gone through and it has been really a lot of fun.
Steve how difficult is this job market then in terms of placing your clients with professional teams and if possible could you give us an example of a signing over the last few years that maybe turned out to be more difficult that you had expected?
Well, I would say this summer's market has probably been one of the most difficult since I started in the business. I'm finding the number of good players, who are still sitting out there unsigned and looking for jobs, have been trying for both the player agents and the players themselves more importantly. So, I would say this has been a difficult summer. I think we're starting to see the effects of the cap system that in the early years didn't particularly seem to throw the breaks on the market place, but now clearly with teams who have spent the bulk of their dollars in earlier contracts and earlier years, when free agency hit them suddenly, they have more than half of the team so we're not going to do anything or we're not going to do much of anything. That's a real damper on the market. So, I think, in particular, this summer and going forward, I have concern that this cap system is starting to bite certainly the middle class, and in the very end, the stars are always going to get their money. Young guys, as we have seen, more and more are starting to get regular starting roles in the NHL for no other reason that their salaries are capped finally, but the solid middle class NHLer, who has been around for a number of years, in some ways, is getting squeezed out of the position, and I do have a lot of concern about that. It has been tough. So, I was fortunate this summer not to have a lot of name contracts. Last summer, I did, it was like Brian Gionta and those deals with Rob Scuderi that drew pretty good money, but I'm frankly looking back and I'm glad it was last summer and not this summer because there were a lot less buyers in the market place.
In the market place, what's your take on the long-term impact of contracts like contracts of Kovalchuk, Luongo, Pronger, and Savard?
Well, it's sort of a micro-macro argument. Micro is if I am representing a player. My job is to get that particular player the very best deal I can. So, in that sense, you want to use every tool and every possible leverage point you can find within the CBA. So, the other side if is a fan and someone who has always tried to look at the overall health of the game, and to that extent, for many of the reasons I just mentioned about a market place that is shrinking. I guess, I have real concerns about some of these long-term deals, looking at them, and it sounds very unagent like maybe, but ultimately I want those dollars to be there in the future years for new clients and for clients to earn the right to step up and have their time at the bat. So, I'm a little concerned that if we don't find some way to avoid dollars being gobbled up by players who frankly aren't likely to be around even using those dollars that it could really have a detrimental effect on the market place going forward.
Yeah. Well, it's funny you mentioned that because I know one of the names that Darryl and myself have talked about is Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders. Our opinions are that we just don't feel that obviously he hasn't been worth his value because of his injuries and definitely not a good situation to the Islanders.
No. And I think part of the other things that we've again, you don't really understand the CBA until you get into it a few years and I think the other thing which I have trouble understanding is in the old days, if you were stuck with the contract, it didn't make sense there was the ability to move that player and share in the cost of his contract. In other words, I've got a $5,000,000 player that I don't want anymore. Nobody else will pay him at $5,000,000, but I can find a team that will pay him at $2,500,000. I paid $2,500,000, they paid $2,500,000, they're happy. They get a discount on that particular player. I'm happy because I've moved that contract, but this collective bargain agreement gives you very, very few options like that. Once you sign that contract, get your hands tied behind your back, and I'm finding that right now with Cristobal Huet in Chicago, who we signed to a good contract, and yet the inability to be flexible, renegotiate, or have the team pay a portion of it may force them out of the NHL, which may not be the best result for anybody and yet that's kind of the system we're stuck with. So, I think we need to re-map a lot of the stuff that is going on and I think overall that will be healthy for both the teams and the players.
Steve, I'd like to thank you very much for spending the time with us. We wish you to have a terrific season upcoming and we would certainly be in touch. Thanks again.
Any time guys. Thanks for having me.
Okay, thanks Steve. Good night. Well, there you have it folks. That's Steve Bartlett, NHL, player agent. Not bad, right Gary?
No. Not bad at all Darryl. There's a lot of good insight and he covered a lot of different topics here that we've discussed over the last year. -30-
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