Years before pro hockey agent Jay Grossman ’87 helped globalize the National Hockey League—flying seven time zones to Russia, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia to sign the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk of Russia or Niklas Backstrom of Finland — his scouting trips were easy walks from his dorm room in Davidson to Achilles Rink.
During one prep school tournament, Grossman was in the stands at Achilles to see a promising young player from Avon Old Farms who would become one of the successful hockey agent’s star clients.
Brian Leetch went on to play 18 NHL seasons, 16 with the Rangers, winning the Stanley Cup in 1994. Regarded as one of the best defensemen in league history, he set the record for goals by a rookie defensemen and was the first American to win the Conn Smythe trophy. Grossman knows Leetch for his integrity and unassuming nature, not just for his prowess on the ice. Through their long professional affiliation, the two are close friends.
Grossman, the president of Puck Agency, was on campus in May as part of the Alumni Speaker Series to share his experiences at Union and beyond.
Grossman came to Union expecting to play hockey and lacrosse. But he had another interest that soon surpassed the others. Starting at age 12, when he attended summer hockey camps, he had discovered video analysis. Before the proliferation of technology that made in-person scouting mostly obsolete, Grossman was using two large VHS machines in his dorm room to break down game films for NHL teams.
Through mentors who included Roger Neilson, head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, and the legendary Rangers Coach Herb Brooks, who coached the 1980 Olympic gold medal team, Grossman found his way to a sports agency.
In his last two years at Union, he was working with a sports agency to scout young prospects including Leetch, Adam Oates, Joe Nieuwendyk and Eric Lindros.
Grossman, an attorney with a degree from Yeshiva University’s Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, said the industry has changed dramatically. In 1991-92, when he was starting out, the average NHL salary was $368,000. Today the average is about $2.6 million.
That money attracts more peripheral people, those in financial and tax services, for example. “A lot of people see business opportunities and we have to decide if they are a good fit for our clients,” Grossman said. “When I started, there were only 10 sports agents in total and we were doing all of the work.”
Though most NHL agents don’t make headlines, Grossman is known for a few deals. In 2010, he negotiated a 15-year, $100 million contract for Kovalchuk. (The Devil’s left winger quit the NHL in 2013 to play in Russia, leaving $77 million behind.) Grossman also helped secure more than $60 million in career earnings for Russian goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, ranking him among the top five goalies in NHL history. Another client, Finnish netminder Pekka Rinne, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist, signed a seven-year, $49 million contract with the Nashville Predators.
Grossman said he is grateful for his time at Union. “The real thing that Union gave me—in the liberal arts environment with a trimester calendar—was the opportunity to do so many things and learn to deal with people,” Grossman recalled in his talk.
“I came here to play hockey and lacrosse, but I also became sports editor and editor-in-chief for Concordiensis, coached JV hockey under Charlie Morrison, had a leadership position with my fraternity and worked part-time as a scout and agent. And I still had the time to go to class and do those things you’re supposed to do as a student.”