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Preparation key for agents ahead of July 1 free agency period

Pat Brisson can always count on a sleepless night come June 30.

The hockey agent from CAA Sports is one of dozens of people in the industry who tend to burn the midnight oil on the eve of NHL free agency. Preparation is key before the floodgates open at noon ET on July 1.

"For us, it's the busiest day of the year," Brisson said from his Los Angeles office on Tuesday afternoon. "We always have at least 10 players looking for work and we have also the possibility of extending players a year prior to (their contracts ending)."

Brisson plans to arrive at his Los Angeles office by about 6:30 a.m. local time on Wednesday. When the free agency period officially opens a couple hours later, he'll already have a good idea of where some of his clients might end up.

While agents and general managers are forbidden from discussing specific contracts and players before the deadline passes, they've usually had some informal discussions ahead of that time.

"I talk to teams about what they need, what they're looking for," said Brisson. "I like to know if they need a D, a third-line centre. You get a little bit of an idea of what team is looking for what.

"And of course we know what we have available internally."

Ian Laperriere, Philippe Boucher, Mathieu Dandenault, Mathieu Garon, Brent Johnson and Dennis Seidenberg are among his current stable of players that are expected to be available to the highest bidder on Wednesday.

The experience from years past has taught Brisson that there probably won't be much of a wait before the phone starts ringing.

"We usually get a few phone calls right away and we get going," he said. "We have a couple people covering the phones with each subject because we don't want to miss any opportunities for our players. That's the good thing about being prepared and having more than one player in the oven, so to speak - you share more information faster, you have more going on."

He'll also do some work on behalf of fellow CAA Sports agent J.P. Barry, if necessary.

During the course of a conversation with an NHL team, Brisson is able to answer questions about Barry's clients - whether it be the Sedin twins or Matthias Ohlund. That spirit of partnership is designed to maximize the return.

"If the twins go free tomorrow, I'll be handling it as well - get some info, discuss and go back to J.P.," said Brisson. "In the end, J.P. is the point guy on them but we share. J.P. may also get a call on Ian Laperriere and have a discussion and then relay that back to me and Jim Nice in my office.

"That's the best way not to lose an opportunity."

An interesting subplot to this year's free agency will be seeing what impact, if any, the economy has on transactions. Roughly US$400 million was handed out on July 1, 2008 and several GMs have indicated that they expect there to be less money to go around this time.

The biggest chill might come from an expected drop in the salary cap next summer.

"If there were a summer were prices come down a bit, then this would be it," Capitals GM George McPhee told reporters in Washington on Tuesday. "We've been hoping for that every summer, but if you look at some of the deals that have been signed already - Rob Blake going from $5 million last year to $3.5 (million) this year or Bill Guerin going from $4.5 (million) to $2 (million) - maybe they realize there may not be a lot out there."

In fact, some teams might not spend much at all.

Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford will likely have to watch forwards Erik Cole and Chad LaRose walk away, joking during the draft that the only thing he'll be signing on July 1 is a birthday card for his cousin.

However, that kind of talk doesn't concern Brisson.

"Teams are operating in a competitive environment, they have budgets to follow," he said. "We know the ones who have to spend, who will spend. ...

"I get a sense it will be as strong as the other years because of the landscape, the competitive environment."

Part of the appeal that comes with July 1 is its unpredictable nature. No matter how much preparation and planning is done ahead of time, it's difficult to guess what will happen until the noon deadline passes.

"Every year there's always a few surprises," said Brisson.



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