September 08, 2010
(Ed. Note: Please welcome Justin Bourne to the Puck Daddy family. JB has been blogging on Bourne's Blog for quite some time, bringing the unique perspective of a former pro player -- NHL tryout/AHL/ECHL -- and the son of a former player -- his father, Bob Bourne, won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders -- to the masses. Beginning next week, his columns and videos will appear on this site on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.)
For every Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) with his bajillion dollar contract, there are a dozen guys stressing about the future, shaking the magic eight-ball and playing the "maybe" game - maybe I'll get a better offer, maybe I'll get more opportunity here, maybe I should have stayed in school.
Thanks to the trickle-down economics of roster-filling, the decision you make in the summer is crucial. So when that caller ID says "agent", it's a fumble-fest to get that call answered and get some information, so you can get to thinking. Again.
There's just no feeling like not knowing which city, league or state you're going to be a part of just a couple weeks from now. For the low-level player, it can get pretty obscure. Which ECHL team called? Wait, Kalamazoo is a real place? I need a map.
We all have our priorities - for most guys, they can be boiled down to opportunity, cash and location.
Sure, it's fun to play in a good city in a great rink on a winning team, but unless you're a stud with a clear path to a Kovy contract, every summer you weigh those three simple things: opportunity, cash, location.
When I signed my last contract, location was a key priority - someplace close to AHL teams for a quick call up and, ideally, somewhere near the fiancée on the East Coast. Unfortunately, when you're fighting to climb the ladder, no one is particularly concerned about meeting your priorities.
"Really, I can go make $700 Euro a week living in the Netherlands?" That's not very close to my fiancée ...
"Oh yeah, Johnstown of the ECHL wants to give me $750 a week?" They're not exactly famous for producing call-ups ...
"Hmm, that two-way AHL/ECHL contract sounds good, but that only leaves four right-winger spots I can take." I think I'll sign a one-way in the ECHL, Gretzky it up for a bit, and let whatever team wants me call me up ...
With my personal decision made, I took less money ($600 a week) to play in Reading, PA - a place that has a reputation for moving players up and just happens to be close to New York. And to start, I was headed to the Hershey Bears (AHL) training camp for a tryout.
Okay, 2008-2009, I'm ready to rock. Let's do this.
I tore my MCL in Hershey, reported to Reading for one game and then had my less-than-I-could've-made contract traded to Boise, Idaho, because the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired two guys and I was getting squeezed out.
Peace out, buddy, thanks for the hustle.
So there I was: making less than I could have made in a place I didn't want to be in an organization not near AHL teams for call-ups, thinking, perrrrfect, good summer decisions, Bourne. You ass.
My situation that year reflects the general state of being for the average pro hockey player - there's enough uncertainty and insecurity out there to fill a middle school hallway. Most guys only pray they can someday earn the right to complain on Twitter about the woes of earning $1.5 million a year to be a back-up like Dan Ellis(notes).
With most of the big-name NHL pieces in place, it's starting to become decision time for people who are in the situation I was, only hopefully those guys have fully functioning frontal lobes, where as I apparently had some sort of non-operational placeholder.
I knew I shoulda gone to the Netherlands.
During hockey's off-season, we hear more about contracts like Kovalchuk's - the big ones, the ones that alter the course of the playoffs, the ones that make a splash. But for the majority of players, you just roll the dice and hope to get the best chance possible.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you get traded to Boise.