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Rick Rischall The Hockey Writers

Published on Friday, February 26, 2016





NHL Players Need More Than Memories At Retirement

On Wednesday February 24th, Classic Auctions issued a news release reporting that Hockey Hall of Fame goalie Ed Belfour had sold 66 items of hockey memorabilia. The items, including his 2002 Olympic Gold Medal ($41,200), and one of his masks ($18,292) worn from 1992 to 1994 while with the Chicago Blackhawks, sold for about $215,000. Other items of note included autographed sticks and jerseys, as well as a replica of the Vezina Trophy he won in 1993.

Belfour Has His Reasons

The motivation for Belfour was to raise money so he could start Belfour Distilleries along with his son Dayn. They will focus on distilling whiskeys and bourbon.

Let that sink in for a minute. A two-time Vezina winner, NHL Rookie of the year in 1991, Olympic Champion and Hall of Fame goalie who played in over 16 NHL seasons decided to sell some of his most cherished memories to start a new business. While the cause is certainly noble in supporting his son and launching a new business, I have very mixed feelings.

In an interview with John Wawrow of the Associated Press, Belfour stated “It’s definitely hard to part ways with some of this stuff I’ve kept since high school. But I have the memories and I’ll never forget them,” he added. “This is a chance to get together with my son and start a business, the next chapter of our lives, and hopefully turn it into a world-class distillery where our bourbon is known all over the world.” Belfour later stated “It was collecting dust in the attic. It makes me feel good that my stuff will end up in some very good collectors’ hands.”

Sure, some can concur that such things are only “stuff”, and that the memories are all that matters. However, I personally have a hard time accepting that logic when it comes to a gold medal and one of his “Eddie The Eagle” goalie masks. While it is true the gold medal was received for being a third-string Canadian goalie behind Martin Brodeur and Curtis Joseph, it is still a freaking gold medal. Even more, this was Canada’s first in 50 years in men’s ice hockey.

Improving Financial Stability of Players

It appears Belfour has his priorities straight, and values family above all else. There is no way I am going to question that decision. However, I will question why one of the greatest goalies to ever play the game was compelled to sell the items in the first place. Yeah, I know it was “just collecting dust in the attic.” But the fact of the matter is Belfour reportedly earned over $49,633,000 in his career. Given that amount, one would assume with any kind of shrewd financial planning, he wouldn’t need to sell 66 items to start a new career. Furthermore, if he is financially stable and doesn’t care, why not just donate it?

Let me be clear: I know nothing of Belfour nor his financial situation. So please allow me to make an assumption that perhaps his situation seems to follow that of professional athletes across all major sports. Even if it doesn’t, my commentary will still hold true. Specifically, once retirement has kicked in, money can become a problem. I understand that the NHL offers access to financial planners, and the NHLPA also provides tools and reminders of the importance of financial literacy and responsibility. I also recognize that individuals fortunate enough to make millions of dollars want to live a certain lifestyle that reflects all of their hard work and rewards those (family, friends, etc.) who supported them along the way.

In a step in the right direction, a new Defined Benefit Pension Plan was adopted in 2014 as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. As part of the revenue sharing, players collectively contribute $38 million per season to the plan. The $38 million comes out of the players’ 50% revenue share at the end of each season. After this annual sum—along with other benefits costs—is deducted from the athletes’ revenue share, the rest of the money goes to player salaries. Under U.S. law (the pension plan is based on U.S. Law as it’s more beneficial than Canadian rules), the plan can start paying the maximum pension benefit to players once they turn age 62. The current maximum benefit under U.S. law is a little over $200,000 a year, but that number gets adjusted annually to inflation. To get the maximum benefit, a player needs 10 years of service or more. If an NHL player plays fewer years, his benefit decreases. Of course this plan came way too late for Belfour and others like him.

Professional Financial Counseling Can Help

While it is ultimately the responsibility of each NHL player to ultimately handle his own money, I truly believe that the NHL and NHLPA also need to be much more proactive in counseling players throughout their career on matters of money. It cannot just be some preseason guest speaker who shares horrors stories. Nor can it just be some forced savings program either. It also shouldn’t just be an NHLPA rep communicating the benefits and necessity of the pension plan either. That’s just not good enough.

The solution is really quite simple: I strongly recommend that players be forced to sit down with a fully vetted and qualified Certified Financial Planner every single year at a minimum. These meetings need to be signed off by the player and the advisor, and then submitted to the NHL and NHLPA. These conversations need to start on draft day/signing of the first contract, and continue throughout their retirement. I don’t care if some think that is micromanaging. Given the demands on the players, as well as the toll injuries can take on the body and mind, they need an advocate dedicated solely to their long-term financial health and well-being. It can’t be a significant other, family member or agent. Just ask Jack Johnson how well it worked out having his parents manage his money.

Like I said, it needs to be someone completely independent. Someone whose job this is full-time, not in between games, practices or spending sprees.

The pension plan adopted in 2014 certainly helps players plan financially for the future. However, without continued guidance and coaching, their financial game will be lacking when it matters most. The last thing any true fan really wants to read in the future is that Jonathan Toews had to sell his Gold Medals, Selke Trophy and Stanley Cup Championship Rings just to make ends meet. Even if it ends up being just “stuff” that no longer fits in his trophy case.

What do you think? Do NHL players need more hands-on financial management and counseling?


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