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Keys To Attracting Top Free Agents

by Greg Millen / Toronto Maple Leafs
There has been a bit of traction of late concerning free agents and their lack of interest to play on Canadian teams. I am having difficulty buying into the theory that free agent NHL players would rather opt for the safe haven of a warm U.S. market.

Let’s examine the wants and needs of a grade “A” free agent. A grade “A” free agent is a player that has interest from several teams and can make an immediate impact on an organization. The grade “A” player has several wants and needs when shopping for a new team.

I would suggest to you from the players’ perspective this shopping list is in order of preference (assuming that the dollars are close):

1.    He wants to go to a situation where he will have an opportunity to succeed;
2.    He wants to go to a team that has a track record of winning;
3.    The new team has to have a good reputation of looking after players, having their backs and a supportive coaching staff;
4.    Hockey atmosphere is a factor;
5.    Money and long term security for the family is important;
6.    The city and lifestyle.

How about looking at this from a team’s view? If the list were in reverse I would take a long hard look to even signing the player. Would you want a “hockey player” who wants to win or a player that would prefer a softer easier lifestyle that is playing out the string?

So why are free agents staying away from Canadian teams?  Is it Canada? The weather? The pressure of hockey markets?

Why is it that over the last number of years New Jersey or Detroit was able to keep their players and sign free agents along the way? With all due respect to the respective cities I am not sure New Jersey or Detroit would be on many players’ wish list from a lifestyle standpoint in comparison to a southern destination. It’s about winning, opportunity and stability!

The fact is our teams in Canada have been struggling with these characteristics the last number of years. It is changing however.  Players will now choose to stay in Montreal and Vancouver and grade “A” free agents will want to sign there.

Some of the other Canadian markets are starting to rebuild solid programs and with that will come winning and free agent signings.

I can’t help but think about the Green Bay Packers: A small market, small town team in a cold environment. Do you not think meaningful free agents would love to join that organization! Hockey is no different. Players want to win! That’s really what its all about for a grade “A” free agent.
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