- Craig Custance
The closest thing to winning a Stanley Cup for an agent is when a client wins one. Through years of building the talent in his agency with guys such as Tim Thomas, Antti Niemi, Brian Rafalski, John Madden and Tuukka Rask, Bill Zito hit that pinnacle often.
Sometimes he got time on the ice with the Cup, often it was a phone call of appreciation. Guys would take a moment during a celebration to recall the times there was an extra effort made by Zito to find the right opportunity, to fight for his client.
Then it was back to celebrating with their teammates and families. That fleeting moment of shared recognition was certainly appreciated, but it was gone in a second. Each time it happened, it only heightened the feeling more. Zito wanted to be on the other side of that conversation, enjoying the long celebration.
“You certainly play a small role when they win it, and you feel a part of it for a minute,” Zito said. “But I yearn to be part of winning a Stanley Cup.”
So last summer, Zito crossed over. He joined close friend Jarmo Kekalainen in the Columbus Blue Jackets' front office as an assistant GM, and there were certainly eyebrows raised by his decision. He’d just negotiated an eight-year, $56 million contract for Rask. Through the years, he’d negotiated millions and millions of dollars worth of deals, including the contracts for James Wisniewski and Kimmo Timonen.
You don’t have to know the salary structure of NHL executives to know that Zito took a pay cut to chase a dream. And he did it by joining an NHL team with exactly zero playoff wins in its franchise history, not the easiest path to the Stanley Cup.
When we chatted Tuesday, there wasn’t even the single hint of regret. Quite the opposite. Considering the strides Columbus took this season, the decision is looking less crazy by the month.
“So many factors add up to make it,” Zito said. “At least for me, it was the right decision.”
He took the plunge that agent Pat Brisson has thus far passed on. In a statement first released by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Brisson acknowledged his close friendship with Pittsburgh Penguins ownership and that they’d reached out to him as a candidate to replace fired GM Ray Shero.
“As for me,” Brisson said in the statement, “I am happy with what I do at CAA and will continue on the path of representing players.”
With new deals coming for Brisson clients Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, along with the millions already in the stable, it’s understandable. He’s helped build a huge business there and is as successful and respected as any agent in the business.
But even after his public retreat from the job, there are still those out there who believe the Penguins will at least circle back and make another effort if they haven’t already. Maybe it’s simply the belief that the lure of the Cup is too strong to resist, especially considering considering just how close the Penguins are to winning one.
“I’m not sure that’s over at all,” one NHL source said.