Labor and Agents: Inside Pat Brisson’s high-altitude dealmaking on NHL draft day

NHL agent Pat Brisson had a funny feeling at the gate at LAX, where on the morning of the NHL draft he was boarding a plane to fly to Toronto to see University of Michigan defenseman Owen Power.

That’s because like many sports agents, Brisson had a rule: Never fly on draft day. Teams jockeying for position may want to trade some players and lock down others. But Brisson, CAA Hockey co-head, was advising Power, the presumed No. 1 pick, and had promised him and his family that he would be there with them in Toronto on draft night.

Brisson is a veteran agent and flier, as hockey agents arguably travel more, or at least longer distances, than other agents because the NHL is so far-flung and prospects hail from all over the world. But the coronavirus has crimped travel and caused airlines to cut flights. All red-eyes from Los Angeles to Toronto the night before the draft were booked. 

“I tried to get a red-eye; there’s no red-eye from L.A. to Toronto,” Brisson said. “I was going to fly to Detroit in the morning and then fly there in the afternoon. I tried every which way. I even thought about private — from L.A. to Toronto.”

But he found himself on that Friday morning, July 23, asking the first flight attendant he saw if the plane had Wi-Fi. “If we didn’t, I would have had a heart attack,” he said.

Forty-five minutes into the flight, Brisson received a text from Stan Bowman, general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks, inquiring about a sign-and-trade of Brisson’s client, then Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones.

“He said, ‘I’ve got permission to speak to you. Where are you?’” Brisson related. “I said, ‘I am up in the air, I am landing at 5:30 in Toronto.’ “He said, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

Over the next four to five hours, Bowman and Brisson negotiated a deal on the plane. Brisson reached Jones, who wanted to go to Chicago — at least in part because his younger brother, Caleb, plays defenseman there. 

The No. 1 and No. 2 picks of the NHL draft, both clients of CAA Hockey, are shown on screens in the NHL Network studios.getty images

Bowman and Brisson were able to work out an eight-year, $76 million deal. The agreement had to be completed before the draft because the Blackhawks were trading their first- and second-round picks for this year’s draft to the Blue Jackets. Chicago also gave Columbus its 2022 first-round pick and defenseman Adam Boqvist as part of the deal.

The agreement makes Jones the NHL’s third-highest paid defenseman and was completed shortly after Brisson arrived in Toronto to watch another defenseman client, Power, drafted No. 1 overall by the Buffalo Sabres. 

Power is one of four University of Michigan players or commits who was drafted in the first round and three clients who are being advised by Brisson and his partner, CAA Hockey co-head J.P. Barry. The other two players are: center Matthew Beniers, who was taken No. 2 by the expansion Seattle Kraken, and Michigan commit and defenseman Luke Hughes, who was selected No. 4 by the New Jersey Devils

Jen Entin, CAA Hockey head of marketing and client management, represents all the players for off-the-ice endeavors and will be looking for a wide range of opportunities, from memorabilia and equipment to local deals in the players’ NHL market and college town, now that NIL agreements are available for college players.

“Our hockey student athletes who have been drafted have the unique ability to monetize their NIL both at the collegiate and professional level,” she said. “This allows these players to build a brand not only for the present but also the future.”

Brisson went into draft night knowing that CAA Hockey was going to have a good night, because seven of the draft prospects the agency was representing or advising were considered lock first-round picks, but it ended up better than expected.

“We said, ‘We are going to have seven — with 10 to 11 at best — and we ended up at 10,” Brisson said. All of the players (see chart) are represented by Brisson and Barry. 

It is not, however, the all-time record for an agency. Don Meehan, pioneering NHL agent and founder of Newport Sports, told Sports Business Journal that Newport represented 12 first rounders in the 1990 NHL draft.  In this year’s draft, Newport Sports represented four players selected in the first round, including Swiss League center Mason McTavish, who was picked No. 3 by the Anaheim Ducks. Additionally, Newport represented wing Brennan Othmann (No. 16, New York Rangers) and center Chaz Lucius (No. 18, Winnipeg Jets). Newport also represented Cole Sillinger, who was selected No. 12 overall by the Blue Jackets in the pick Columbus obtained from Chicago in the Jones trade.

Although not a record, representing or advising (college players don’t have agents for playing contracts) one-third of the first round is a feat for any agency in 2021. CAA Hockey’s previous record was eight first-round selections, in 2016. “We usually represent five,” Brisson said. 

It was Brisson’s eighth No. 1 overall pick. Other No. 1 picks he represents include Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Eric Johnson, Nate McKinnon and John Tavares

Although this year’s draft worked out well, Brisson is not likely to get himself stuck on a plane on draft day in the future. “But it worked out perfect,” he said. 

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

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