When last we left off, I was discussing the stalemates with Matt Duchene in Colorado and Josh Anderson in Columbus (See here). One thing I failed to mention in that article was the role for Darren Ferris in the situation–don’t do something dumb that makes the possibility of a trade for your client worse. Now, there are things Ferris could do to try and nudge things along such as following through on the threat that Anderson would spend the season in Switzerland (even though we all know that is a horrible result for his client unless he values chocolate and watches more than actual money). That wouldn’t have materially altered the playing field, but it would have given an impression that Ferris was serious about his threat.
The absolute dumbest thing Ferris could do is make a public trade demand. Why is this a really bad idea from a negotiations standpoint? Let me count the ways. For one thing, it is a clear dominance move. Either the other person gives into the trade demand or you end up withdrawing the trade demand. The public is going to know that one side or the other caved. You will note that Duchene and his agent, Pat Brisson (also agent for Alexander Wennberg), have never made a public trade demand even though Brisson sure looked excitable at this year’s NHL draft. It now seems obvious why they didn’t–Duchene wasn’t going to risk the possibility of not playing at all and losing salary in the process to try and force a trade. As I’ve thought about it more, given that Joe Sakic‘s pride seems to be playing a part in his decisions regarding Duchene, this was probably the right move because I don’t know that Sakic would take kindly to a demand that would make him look weak.
Now, what do we know about Jarmo Kekäläinen and how he deals with negotiations? We know he didn’t cave to Ryan Johansen and his agent, Kurt Overhardt, when they made lofty contract demands despite the fact that Johansen was probably the most important player on the team at, arguably, the most important position. We know that he didn’t cave to Wennberg and Brisson even though, again, the player in question was slotted to be his number one center. This isn’t someone who rolls over simply because of posturing or theatrics. So, how was he likely to address a public trade demand based on his history? Does it seem likely Kekäläinen would give into such a demand or stand firm in the face of it? The latter seems more likely.
So, we have a sense that Kekäläinen’s initial reaction would be to refuse to trade Anderson. What about Ferris’ own position in this game of chicken? Again, as I pointed out in the last article, his position is very weak. This move doesn’t improve his leverage in any way. In fact, his position is weaker than Brisson’s with Duchene because a trade demand by Duchene could spark a public outcry to trade Duchene and/or for Sakic to be fired by the owners. We saw this exact scenario play out with Rick Nash and Scott Howson. To be clear, the Jackets fan protest proceeded Nash’s trade demand becoming public, but Howson’s precarious position and the team’s need to rebuild worked to Nash’s advantage.
Is there going to be an outcry for Kekäläinen to be fired a few months removed from the best season in Jackets history? Hardly. Is there going to be a public demand for Anderson to be traded? Maybe, but fans aren’t going to demand that the player be traded just to be traded; they are going to expect a good return.
Which gets us to the next problem–a public trade demand might make Anderson harder to trade or diminish the return. The demand may make Anderson harder to trade because a GM is only acquiring Anderson’s rights and would still have to get Ferris to accept a final deal. Is there a GM that is willing to cave to Ferris’ demands because they want the player badly enough? Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it. We’re talking about a player who really has only one NHL season of experience. I’m not convinced other GMs are any more willing to give Anderson the two-year deal he seems to be after so that he can get arbitration rights as soon as possible, particularly given the player and agent’s current negotiating tactics. Additionally, other GMs will now view the Jackets as being in a position where they have to trade the player and they will be looking to get a deal.
Colorado is the team that could be the exception since they have their own situation where they need to trade a player, but, again, the public demand creates the impression that the Jackets are giving into the demands of the player and the agent, complicating an already complicated situation.
Fortunately, if this was meant to be a public demand, Ferris botched it just enough to give the sides some wiggle room. Indeed, Kekäläinen has already made a statement that he wasn’t aware of such demand and Ferris has seemingly walked away from going public with the demand, instead giving a vague statement about continuing to negotiate.
Ferris is playing with fire. He has been fortunate to this point in his negotiations with Red Wings GM Ken Holland that Holland hasn’t put him on blast for his tactics in the negotiations for Andreas Athanasiou including-wait for it-threatening to take the player overseas. Being taken to task by one of the longest-tenured GMs in the league would probably not be a positive for Ferris’ future as an agent. As it is, being the only agent with two failed restricted free agent negotiations isn’t exactly a feather in his cap. And, let’s not forget, just last year in the Tobias Rieder negotiations Ferris sent an e-mail that stated “I think it would be best for both parties if they just traded him.” Rieder would later re-sign with the Coyotes, so apparently he changed his mind. This is an agent who largely represents lesser talents who keeps trying to make a name for himself in the worst ways possible.
Keep in mind, Ferris isn’t exactly loved by some of his fellow agents. When he left Don Meehan’s Newport Sports Management group, a suit followed including allegations that Ferris misrepresented ties with players and slandered his prior employer. He later left Bobby Orr‘s agency to start ARC Sports Group. He’s since formed Definitive Hockey Group, apparently as successor to ARC Sports Group. When you see a guy who so routinely pulls out over-the-top tactics and who seems to constantly be looking for a new job, you have to start to question his skill as a negotiator and, frankly, his ethics. In any event, his standard operating procedure of threatening a player will leave for Europe/Russia and demanding a trade through the press is getting old with NHL GMs. But, for the sake of entertainment, I’d love to see him try that with Lou Lamoriello (Ferris’ most high-profile client is Mitch Marner).
Ferris needs to tow the line. If a trade can’t be made, he needs to stop harming his client and sign the deal that has been offered. The team can always facilitate a trade later on when the mess Ferris created has died down. This was another misplayed bluff by an agent with a history of them.