With just a couple of days left before the 2010 NHL entry draft, this has got to be a pretty busy time for agents representing athletes around the league. So when the opportunity to speak with Eustace King, managing partner at O2K Worldwide Management Group, I didn't hesitate to take advantage of it.
O2K represents a couple of prospects who might very well get selected in the first round of the draft, with Emerson Etem and Beau Bennett, so co-ordinating their schedules must be keeping King and his group busy. The group also represents NHLers Raffi Torres, Wayne Simmonds, T.J. Oshie, Anthony Stewart, Tyler Ennis, and Chris Stewart. Since I've given little thought to what player agents do beyond contract negotiations, I figured it would be great to have the opportunity to talk with King--especially at such an exciting time.
When I got in contact with King on Monday afternoon, he had just come out of a meeting with Beau Bennett in downtown Los Angeles, where they were getting ready for the draft. Just as I was about to introduce myself and ask a question, he started giving directions to Bennett about where he was heading next; yeah, these guys are pretty busy right now. After that, though, he took a few minutes to answer some questions I had. Here's the interview
Silver Seven: What's keeping you and your group most busy, as you and the players you represent are getting ready for the draft?
Eustace King: The busiest is just coordinating. We've got, we would say, a pretty good group of players, and we're busy because we're coordinating all of their interviews. Some of our guys have gone to the combine, and had anywhere between 26 and 28 interviews with all different teams, and some of those teams had follow-up interviews here in Los Angeles--because sometimes the general manager wasn't able to sit in the meeting, or for different reasons. It's pretty much making sure we're facilitating, there's a lot of interview requests for our athletes, like Emerson Etem and Beau Bennet, and that's pretty much keeping us busy.
Also, there's a lot of trades that are starting to take place, as far as teams in the NHL go, and I'm just keeping abreast of what's going on because some of it could impact some of my guys that currently play.
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SS: When heading into a draft, a lot of young players must be feeling pretty anxious or nervous. What kind of advice do you give to your guys, like Etem or Bennet, as they're going into the draft, to keep their nerves calm on what is probably one of the most exciting days of their lives?
EK: Well, the way that we approach things is that we make sure that our players leave whatever they need to do on the ice. Because, at the end of the day, our players will play hard, they'll perform--go to the combine, do the testing--and we try to take care of the other stuff. We train our players not just to play, but to excel at the level that they're at. We feel that there's nothing else to worry about; you can't control anything else, so you just have to control your controllables. That's how you approach this game, and how you prepare, as far as your conditioning.
Aside from that, we also create athlete profiles and video for each one of our players. We send that out to the different NHL teams and they can see highlights of the athletes that they have. For instance, if you went on YouTube right now and you googled ‘Emerson Etem' on YouTube, you'll see video on him. Or Beau Bennet, or the other athletes there. We feel it's our job to do the NHL teams' homework for them; at the end of the day, they are going to put millions and millions of dollars into their scouting and following amateur hockey, but we feel that when it comes to our players, we want the teams to get the full details. So, at the end of the day, if they are considering our players, they have a place where they can go, look at video, share with other members of their staff, and then also they take in all the stats--sometimes, a guy's on the junior team, so we have all the stats there.
SS: One thing that's front and centre on your website if your group's focus on conditioning. What's your approach to off-ice conditioning, and getting players ready for what is really a lifestyle as much as it is a new job?
EK: Our focus has always been that we feel that it's critical for a player to fully understand what it takes to be a National Hockey League player. The first thing we start off with is that we provide all our kids with access to all of our guys. So if a player wants to talk to a certain player or type of player, like a power-forward or T.J. Oshie, we make sure we provide them with an opportunity to do that.
Another thing is that we have our own training facility that we work through Minnesota Hockey Camps, in Brainerd, Minnesota, and it's been around for over 30 years. Chuck Grillo is in charge there, and he's basically got the art of training athletes down to a science; specifically NHL players. He's been a director of player personnel, and he's also been a chief scout, he's been in different capacities with different teams. It's run more like a combine; guys go in, they test in right away to find out where they're at--whether it's speed, acceleration, agility, different areas. And then once they do that, the kids do three or four weeks, sometimes up to ten weeks, and we measure again at different intervals. That way a guy can see that he is making progression, and keep track of his improvement over a period of time.
So we do that, but we also have a strength and conditioning coach who works with our players. T.R. Goodman, wh's been known to keep Chris Chelios on the ice for all these years. Emerson Etem has been with him since he was 14, and then he goes to Brainer for what we call his ‘finishing school', to get on the ice, tighten up, and get ready for training camp.
Our whole thing is this: When you are advised by us, and you're 16 years old, we sit down and assess what type of player we think you can be, and give you the resources that would help you succeed. And from there, we're with you every step of the way, for your entire journey. So when you retire, if you're a very smart guy, if you want to go into certain different things, you can. Take, for example, Kevin Weekes; Kevin Weekes was a guy who, when he was playing in New Jersey, we discussed different things. He wasn't ready to retire yet, but we suggested, ‘Hey, why don't you get on television?' We talked to the NHL Network, and worked that out.
At the end of the day, it's all about really making sure that we're in tune with our athletes, knowing what they need, and then we're providing assistance. But at the same token, we're not afraid to be very forthright with our athletes, too. They don't need people to tell them what they want to hear; we're all about saying, ‘Hey, you want to play in the National Hockey League, you want to be an elite athlete, now we're going to tell you the truth about who you are.'
SS: One thing that might get overlooked, but is important for players when they've got a relatively short earning window, is the financial management aspect of what you do. What do you do for your players, in that sense?
EK: Well, we have a tailored approach; we don't want to be all things to everyone. We have created relationships with some of the best financial advisors that have worked with hockey players specifically, and hockey players in general, and we have a compilation of about 3-5 companies that we work with that we feel have done a great job, and been loyal, and we haven't had any issues as far as any challenges from a financial perspective or an ethical standpoint.
And with these agencies that we use, we don't want to bias our players toward a particular agency. We'll let them interview, and it's just like the process with us: They should interview 3-5 financial advisors, sit down and deal with each one, because every one has different strengths and weaknesses. And then we will help them to fine-tune what they think is best for them, and at the end of the day we'll match that kit to the personality, the type of services they provide, and the level of support to make sure that those kids can have access to that.
It starts out with things like bill payments; a lot of kids are pretty bad at getting organized with things like that. So part of the service is bill paying. As they get more advanced, and have more money, then you get into a different type of perspective. For instance, we have a tax accountant, a cross-border and also international, to help when athletes come over from Europe.
We believe that athletes have to focus on playing hockey, and on what they do best, and we'll go out and get people that can handle the insurance, financial advisors, and all these other areas.
SS: What advice do you give your players in terms of ‘brand management' do you encourage your players, including personal websites, blogs, and Twitter?
EK: We take a strategic approach to managing our players' brands, and it comes back to my days working with the National Hockey League. One of the areas that I was responsible for, and that I worked in, was with the marketing side in business development and brand management for the League. I was a steward of that, so the big thing for us is that we want to have just a few relationships, but deep, broad relationships. We don't want to have players that are doing endorsement opportunities with all these different companies, and they're just saturating the marketplace. We want our athletes to have a few corporations to work with, and then at the end of the day, instead of doing a marketing campaign, they can look at a charitable campaign with one of those corporations, or looking at doing things online.