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Screen Shots: An agent rebuttal

A couple of columns back, former Atlanta Braves, Hawks and Thrashers president Stan Kasten outlined his idea – OK, his fond dream – for an agent-free National Hockey League. (To read Kasten's comments, click HERE.)

At the conclusion, Screen Shots invited rebuttals from player agents. The most eloquent of the replies came from Neil Abbott, the Boston-based agent whose NHL client list includes Kings star Jeremy Roenick and Bruins sniper Sergei Samsonov. We present it now for you in its entirety:

"I read Stan Kasten's comments and found them very interesting. Mr. Kasten and most owners and GMs would like nothing better than to have all player contracts negotiated by a single source, as I am sure (they are) aware of how simple it would be for the league to adopt a strict "slot system" where individual skills and talents would be eliminated as a standard of performance and requisite salary and bonus compensation.

In that system), a third line player on the Stanley Cup Championship team would be paid the same as a third line player on a non-playoff team. Winning teams would pay the same as losing teams and the single driving force of ownership - "more profit" - would be enhanced. To read Mr. Kasten's comments, one would think that agents suddenly appear on the horizon the day of signing a contract and take their fee and disappear.

He is oblivious to the role responsible agents play in developing young players as the work through the maze of junior, high school, college and European development leagues. He is oblivious to the fact agents deal with player-team-personal life issues "daily" that are beyond the scope and reach of the player unions.

Does Mr. Kasten think the unions should be negotiating real estate leases, home purchases, estate planning, insurance - disability and personal - as well as the everyday issues (day care location, car purchases, etc.)? Exactly how large a staff does Mr. Kasten envision for the union - 1,000 plus offices in 30 cities?

Mr. Kasten is obviously disturbed in that he feels agents "have driven up costs". In other words, agents are "reducing profits" for his owners.

NHL owners now have a salary cap to work under in the NHL and the NBA. Their challenge is to develop winning teams within the system they have been given. If they are smart, wise and lucky they may sign the right players, for the appropriate price, sign the right coach for the appropriate price and, if they win, congratulate themselves as they count the money they earned by winning.

The characterization of "agents forming a fifth column" is disingenuous at best. It appears that (Kasten) is interested in such a move as it furthers his stated goal of eliminating agents.

We have just come through a yearlong battle that resulted in the loss of a full season of play in the NHL. Agents had very little role in the planning and negotiations that triggered that lockout. Agents can and will assist the union as it regains its footing as we move forward. And if certain players and agents want a review of the situation, they have the right to ask for such a review. (NHLPA director) Ted Saskin is addressing the situation and it will be resolved.

Professional sports unions are not comparable to the AFL-CIO-General Motors or Ford Union. Professional athletes are unique, highly-skilled warriors who are not easily-replaceable parts. Their individual talents are absolutely and completely unique to them; no one can say that Michael Jordan was the same player as Larry Bird and the same statement can be made about LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal. In Mr. Kasten's world, the star of the Bulls in 1993 would be paid the same at the star of the Atlanta Hawks in 1993. I suspect most workers on the line at Ford understand the uniqueness of the skills of the Detroit Pistons basketball team or the Red Wings hockey team.

We live in a democratic system where a player has the right to seek whatever salary and compensation he can command in the market he plays in. An agent's role is to understand and assess the market his player plays in and to get him the salary he has earned and deserves. If teams disagree, they can choose not to sign the player and seek a replacement. Supply and Demand 101.

Agents and the union work together and cooperate on many issues. I expect that cooperation to expand and continue as we move into the new NHL."

Adam Proteau's Screen Shots appears every Thursday only on Want to take a shot at Adam Proteau? If so, you can reach him at

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