When Boston Bruin Zdeno Chara delivered the controversial check heard around the world (or at least North America) in a recent game against the Canadians in Montreal, Wellesley’s Matt Keator was one of the first people the big defenseman spoke to about the situation: “I was at a Lady Gaga concert with my family when it took place and ended up talking with him 15 minutes after it happened.”
Not only is the 17-year Wellesley resident the agent who worked with Chara to land him a big 7-year contract with the Bruins last fall, he’s also an adviser and business manager for the player, as well as for more than 15 other NHL players, including 5 recent Olympians. In the recent Chara situation, for example, Keator provided guidance on how to deal with the media and served as a character reference for a league hearing. For other players, such as those who might be on the trading block, Keator sometimes talks to GMs to try to position his clients to land in the best place for them, where they might get more playing time, a better shot at the Stanley Cup or just a better lifestyle situation.
Keator (shown here, left, with Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, whose son Paul is a client of Keator’s and plays for the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche) played hockey at Trinity College in Hartford and then professionally in Sweden where he was his own agent. In 1989 at the age of 23 he returned to the U.S. to become a scout for the St. Louis Blues of the NHL and did that all over the world for 8 years. After getting his master’s in sports management and doing a year of grad work at Harvard, Keator decided to get into the agent business and now runs Olympic Sports Management.
“The problem was, I hated agents. I still do,” says Keator, who is active locally in Wellesley Youth Hockey, which he says is one of the top town programs around. “When you’re on the team management side of things, agents have a negative connotation, but the business is good for me. I like helping people. If you’re honest and up front with people, it’s fine.” Keator actually interviewed for a couple of NHL general manager jobs a few years ago but wound up deciding to stay an agent.
Keator says being a sports agent isn’t rocket science and that he picked up much of the finance and law know-how needed through his various experiences in hockey, education and life. The biggest change for hockey agents in recent years has been the salary cap put in place following the NHL player lockout in 2004-2005. “It’s made agents more important because there are now only so many dollars out in the marketplace, so you have to know the market well and put your client in the best position for success.”
Keator acknowledges that NHL agents tend to be a little less known to the public than some agents in other sports, like baseball and football. “I try to stay in the background since it’s all about the players,” he says. “The egos of some agents come out maybe more in other sports.”
Asked to recall a choice memory from his sports agent career, Keator shared this gem: “I had one Slovak client whose parrot got detained in customs coming into the U.S. and he called me in tears. He said ‘Matt, my parrot is no longer there! They stole it, they’re going to kill it!’ I spent probably 20 days straight on the phone trying to get this guy’s parrot back, and after they quarantined it for 30 days, the parrot was finally released to him. One of the happiest days of my life.”