Super agent Don Meehan has been in the NHL game a long time. Originally trying to carve out a spot for himself in the 1980s, one of the first key clients he picked up was Pat LaFontaine. Since then, he’s become one of the most powerful agents in the game, and even helped negotiate a new CBA for the officials in 1992.
“At that time a starting linesman coming into the league was going to make $29,000 a year,” Meehan said on Prime Time Sports Monday evening. “I called a good friend of mine at counsel who still is the legal counsel for the (NHL Officials’ Association) Harry Radomski and we ended up representing the officials. We went out on strike for 17 days and it really was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.”
Today, Meehan and his Newport Sports Agency represent all sorts of NHL players, headlined by stars such as Drew Doughty, Brad Marchand, P.K. Subban and Steven Stamkos, the latter of whom was the closest an elite talent has come to being a UFA in his prime when he tested the waters in 2016.
Stamkos, who was 26 at the time but had played eight NHL seasons to make him UFA eligible, made it unsigned to the free agent negotiating period. For the last week of June that year, Stamkos was free to meet with teams to discuss potential deals, but ended up re-signing with the Lightning on June 29, two days before he officially became a UFA.
The new contract was an eight-year deal worth $68 million.
“The expression of interest by clubs I think would have been in the range of about 10-12 teams that reached out and conveyed serious interest and whether or not we could take it any further,” Meehan said. “(He) really wanted, without any disrespect to anybody, really to consider what he wanted to do … if you have to make a decision as to where your future is going to be, he’s the kind of individual who wouldn’t make a snap decision.”
Meehan said Stamkos is the kind of player who really wanted to drill down into each potential landing spot to look at ownership situations and the statuses of the teams and whether or not they were set up for on-ice success, among other factors. Everyone expected that Stamkos could have commanded a contract that could be used as a benchmark for future deals, but another factor that weighed in and would not have an impact on the salary cap of a signing team was endorsements.
As one of the brightest stars in the NHL, Stamkos had the potential to strike deals with corporate clients to come up with new revenue streams for himself and there has been speculation that the Toronto Maple Leafs used their status as a huge hockey market and relationships with these clients in an all-encompassing attempt to woo Stamkos.
“I can tell you that’s not true,” Meehan said. “There’s been a lot of speculation on what transpired. We had a meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs, very similar to meetings we had with other teams at that time. And Toronto was professional with every respect by saying this is what we have, this is where we’re at as an organization, we’ll answer any questions that you have. It wouldn’t take a person like myself long to figure out that being in a position and a city like Toronto would offer all kinds of endorsement opportunities, so that’s not a secret.
“No, I think that’s been speculation and rumours to that effect, but in essence that didn’t happen.”
In fact, while many onlookers saw Stamkos’s use of the negotiating period as a sign he’d leave the Lightning, Meehan said it wasn’t a shock to him when the sniper decided to stay with the team that drafted him.
“I’d have to say really that this was a decision that was tough for him to make,” Meehan noted. “It certainly was attractive with other possibilities and they really were attractive opportunities and yet he’s a loyal person. So given his background and the kind of character he has, it really wasn’t a surprise.”
ON GAINING, AND LOSING, ALEX OVECHKIN AS A CLIENT
While Meehan has many famous clients currently, he also lost one in his past when Alex Ovechkin decided to venture out on his own. Meehan recalled hearing about Ovechkin as promising young player in Russia a few years before he was drafted, and travelling to Moscow to meet with him and his family.
Eventually, after about three meetings, Ovechkin and his family decided he would be represented by Meehan, who started being Ovechkin’s agent about a year and a half before he was picked first overall in 2004. He signed the entry-level contract with Ovechkin, but when it came time for his big, long-term deal, Ovechkin left Meehan and set off on his own.
“Well, his mother took over,” Meehan said of Tatyana Ovechkina, Alex’s two-time gold medal-winning mom. “We had a meeting and his mother determined that she felt it would be in the family’s best interest if she negotiated the next contract with the Washington Capitals and she did so. So it wasn’t as if, in my opinion, that they were dissatisfied with anything we had done with Alex.”
He then recalled meeting Tatyana years earlier when Meehan was trying to recruit Ovechkin, and with her background, Ovechkin’s mother knew more about the game than your average parent.
“(She) was a former Olympian, so she was sports-orientated,” Meehan said. “She was the basketball coach for one of the teams for Red Army. She knew all the questions to ask.”
Ovechkin’s big deal with the Capitals, which happened before term limits were put on deals in 2013, was for 13 years and $124 million. It expires after the 2020-21 season.