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Dixon: The influence of players on adding free agents

James Wisniewski signed on with the Columbus Blue Jackets this off-season for six years at a cap hit of $5.5 million per season. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

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James Wisniewski signed on with the Columbus Blue Jackets this off-season for six years at a cap hit of $5.5 million per season. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

In an era where the Marlon Brando method of signing free agents is no longer an option, many other factors are gaining significance when it comes to players deciding on a new home.

Once upon a time - or more specifically, in the pre-salary cap world - wealthy teams could mimic Brando’s Godfather character and simply make an offer a player couldn’t refuse. Under the current system, the total dollars proposed by interested teams is more or less the same, though the dynamic of deals can change depending on a club’s willingness to front-load a contract.

Still, as we’ve discovered working on a number of articles that will appear in the August edition of The Hockey News, a host of other considerations are driving the decisions of free agent players. One of the things that’s really come into play is the word of fellow players who could potentially be new teammates. It seems only natural that players would place a lot of value in the word of another member of the fraternity, especially when fraternizing amongst NHLers who aren’t teammates has become so prominent over the years. But those conversations carry even more weight when the freight offered by interested teams is a wash.

“For the most part, the players trust the players,” said Paul Krepelka, an agent with the Orr Hockey Group. “A GM or a coach can come on and give a great sales pitch, but if you’re calling your buddy and say, ‘Give me the truth,’ if he backs that up, great, if he doesn’t, the player is going to believe the player.”

Scott Howson knows that. The Columbus Blue Jackets GM believes the No. 1 factor in wooing a free agent is getting in the same room with the player so you can properly and clearly convey your thoughts in terms of how he fits into the lineup and what you’re prepared to do to get him there. But it sure doesn’t hurt to have a little backup on the pitch. In that vein, a couple Columbus players lobbied James Wisniewski before the offense-minded defenseman signed on to join the Jackets as noon on July 1 loomed. One was star Rick Nash; the other was Jared Boll, an old buddy of Wisniewski’s.

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“We had it from both angles,” Howson said. “We had a player who is a superstar in the league talk to him about his belief in the team and what a great place it is to play, what a great place it is to live and then we had Jared Boll, who James knew from before and was friends with, talk about the same thing.”

It’s probably fair to assume the primary reasons ‘The Wiz’ wanted to be in Columbus was the opportunity to be an all-around defenseman and $33 million over six years. But the fact he made his final call only after fielding a couple calls is indicative of a growing trend on July 1.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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