Tuesday September 1st, 2015

Thirty-nine of the NHL’s most promising prospects are wrapping up a two-day business trip to Toronto today. A group that includes Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Dylan Strome, among others, is in town to attend the Rookie Showcase, an annual event that gathers hockey’s best and brightest to attend a few seminars, shoot some video hits and meet the media in a whirlwind orientation session.

But mostly the event is staged to kick off the new trading card season. Sounds like fun, but it’s a bear. The players trudge from station to station where they pose for photos and try on stacks of jerseys that eventually will be cut up for use on their rookie cards. And they sign autographs. Lots and lots of autographs. Thousands, in fact. It’s an arduous process that can take hours and leaves the kids punch drunk with exhaustion and displaying early symptoms of Carpal-Tunnel Syndrome. But it’s also a bonding experience that they can laugh about later.

Well, all of them except Jack Eichel.

Leaf Trading Cards

Eichel was excused from the autograph portion of the event after it was announced on Monday that he had signed an exclusive deal with Leaf Trading Cards. While the terms were not disclosed, Leaf CEO Brian Gray in a statement called the agreement “easily the most lucrative autograph trading deal for any rookie in the history of the sport. He joins the ranks of LeBron James, Cam Newton and Kris Bryant as the largest rookie autograph deals in their respective sport.”

Aside from the apparent scope of the multi-year deal, it’s newsworthy because Leaf is a rival to Upper Deck, the league’s exclusively licensed card manufacturer and the company for whom the Rookie Showcase is staged.

Since Leaf isn’t licensed to produce NHL trading cards, any photos of Eichel must have all league marks, like the Buffalo Sabres logo, airbrushed out. That makes for a less attractive card, but collectors of autograph cards will grin and bear it.

Gray had to be grinning a bit himself when he kicked the hype machine into high gear.

“Jack is easily the most NHL ready player in the 2015 draft,” Gray said in the statement. “Leaf has the unique opportunity to insure collectability and tremendous value for one of the greatest, if not the single greatest, American hockey prospect of all time.”

Looking Out For No. 1: Jack Eichel is an NHL team changing talent

While he might need to tap the brakes there, it’s certainly a big moment for Gray and his company, and a big blow to his competition, which can still make cards of Eichel but will suffer from the absence of signatures from the potential Rookie of the Year. It’s also an interesting dilemma for the NHL Players’ Association. The union is duty bound to support a member’s right to maximize his endorsement earnings and a deal like this sets the stage for opportunities down the road that might be even more lucrative for future PA members. But it’s also a bit of a blow because the NHLPA’s license is only as valuable as the players they can deliver. This might just be a one-off, but if high profile rookies like Eichel make a habit of signing exclusive deals with non-licensed companies, one of the PA’s  significant revenue sources would take a hit.

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