We tend to think that professional athletes are set for life. After all, they make millions of dollars a year to play a game that most of us would play for free. But that’s not always the case, and especially for hockey players, who make significantly less money than athletes in the other major North American sports (for example, just recently we saw mediocre NBA players sign contracts worth over $20 million per year, while Steven Stamkos, one of the best scorers in the NHL, signed a meager by comparison $8.5 million per year contract).
And when you consider the fact that the average career span for an NHL player is a little over 5 years, with an average retirement age somewhere around 28 years old, you realize that NHL players are no better off than the Average Joe when it comes to finances. In fact, they might be at a disadvantage, considering how athletes devote most of their lives to their sport, thereby not acquiring any skills that could be put to use in a job in the real world. With all that in mind, is it any wonder that so many hockey players hit rock bottom after leaving the NHL? Here are 15 such cases.
15 Chris Nilan
Chris “Knuckles” Nilan had a rare combination of toughness and skill, with the ability to both score goals and fight. He played most of his 13-year career for the Montreal Canadiens, tallying 225 points and a whopping 2,248 penalty minutes. Featured in the documentary film The Last Gladiators, which looks at the dying role of the “goon” or “enforcer” in the NHL, Nilan opened up about his struggles with alcohol and drugs, including an addiction to prescription painkillers and heroin. In 2009, Nilan hit rock bottom when was arrested for attempting to steal clothes from a department store.
14 Darren McCarty
Like Nilan, Darren McCarty--who’s best remembered for his time with the Detroit Red Wings, helping them to 4 Stanley Cup wins--was more than just a tough guy. A skilled junior player, he had double-digit goal seasons in the NHL six times, with a career best 19 goals and 49 points during the 1996-97 season.
McCarty’s rock bottom came while he was still in the league, when he was forced to file for bankruptcy in 2006 while with the Calgary Flames, citing $1.9 million worth of assets compared to over $6 million worth of debt. He blamed his poor financial situation on the previous year’s NHL lockout, a divorce, and an inadequate contract from the Flames.
13 Patrick Cote
Apparently when Patrick Cote was a kid, he didn’t just look up to Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr; he also looked up to John Dillinger. That’s because the former Predator, who had 377 career penalty minutes compared to just 3 points, turned to robbing banks after he left hockey.
12 Kevin Stevens
Kevin Stevens’s fall to rock bottom was more than 20 years in the making. After suffering an injury in 1993 while playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, wherein he fell to the ice and broke his nose and several other bones in his face, the former all-star developed an addiction to painkillers. Fast forward more than two decades and Stevens, now long retired, currently finds himself standing trial for conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute oxycodone.
This isn’t the first time Stevens has been in trouble with the law, either. While playing for the New York Rangers, he was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia and for attempting to pick up a prostitute.
11 Sergei Fedorov
One of the greatest Russian hockey players of all time, Hall of Famer Sergei Fedorov--who had 1,179 career points, mostly with the Detroit Red Wings--paved the way for guys like Alex Ovechkin an Evgeni Malkin.
After returning to his home country near the end of his hockey career to play in the KHL, Fedorov was defrauded $60 million, which was owed to him by Joseph Zada, whom the hockey star had given $43 million as an investment. Fedorov sued Zada and won, but he still has yet to receive any of his money. As a result of the substantial loss of money, several of Sergei’s homes were foreclosed on, and his cars were nearly repossessed.
10 Bryan Trottier
With 6 Stanley Cups in 18 seasons, Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier is one of the most successful players in NHL history. Equal parts goal scorer and playmaker, he had over 100 points five seasons in a row, and he is one of only eight players to have scored five goals in more than one game.
Trottier’s on-ice success, however, did not carry over into the real world. In 1994, the very year that he retired, the former Islander and Penguin filed for bankruptcy, nearly $10 million in doubt while claiming to have only $150,000 to his name. A big reason for his poor financial status had to do with a failed ice-rink business that he opened in Long Island.
9 Steve Durbano
When a person’s nickname is “Mental Case,” it’s probably safe to assume that he’s not the most stable individual. And that’s exactly the case with Steve Durbano, who saw limited ice time (although he probably spent more time in the penalty box than on the ice) with a number of NHL teams. In just 220 career games, Durbano racked up a whopping 1,127 penalty minutes, proving that his nickname was indeed an apt description of his character.
8 Theo Fleury
One of the more tragic post-retirement stories, Theo Fleury, who was a star with the Calgary Flames, tallying 1,088 points in 1,084 career games, struggled with alcohol addiction both during his playing days and after. It was these very struggles that brought a premature end to his career, as he was involved in several alcohol related incidents while still in the league. The last such incident occurred in 2003, his last season in the NHL, when he was a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. While out drinking with his teammates at a strip club, he got involved in a fight that left him the worse for wear. While he wasn’t suspended for that incident, he was suspended just a few months later for violating the league’s substance abuse program, effectively ending his career, but not his drug and alcohol problems.
7 Mike Danton
Apparently Mike Danton took his enforcer role a little too seriously, as in 2004, just two days after the Blues were knocked out of the playoffs, he was arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder, which carried with it a penalty of more than just five minutes in a box. He pled guilty to the charge, admitting to hiring a hitman to kill his agent, David Frost.
6 Bob Probert
Bob Probert’s story is becoming all too common these days. A former enforcer, with hundreds of career fights, he developed addictions to drugs and alcohol in his playing days, which carried over into retirement. According to some sources, the former Red Wing and Blackhawk enforcer would spend over $40,000 a year on cocaine, which landed him in rehab several times before he’d even turned 22.
After leaving the game, Probert developed an addiction to painkillers such as oxycontin as a result of the physical damage that he’d incurred over the years as a fighter, and he eventually died of heart failure at just 45 years of age.
5 Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson is the youngest guy on this list, and technically, like McCarty, he hit rock bottom before even leaving the game, but the amount of money he lost surely warrants his inclusion on this list. Like so many other hockey players before him who went broke, Johnson’s financial problems were the result of him putting his trust in the wrong people. You can’t really blame him, though, since the people he trusted with his finances were his own parents, who it turned out were spending his hard earned money on cars, homes, and vacations without his knowledge, putting him $10-$15 million in debt, despite having signed a seven-year $30.5 million contract with the Kings.
4 Tom McCarthy
Tom McCarthy is one of only two players who can claim to have been drafted ahead of Wayne Gretzky. Selected first overall by the Oshawa Generals in the 1977 OMJHL Midget Draft, he would go on to have a solid career in the NHL, albeit not nearly as good as that of “The Great One.”
One area in which McCarthy, who played most of his career with the Minnesota North Stars, has Gretzky beat, however, is in criminal record. Shortly after retiring, he got mixed in with the wrong crowd, particularly a drug dealer by the name of Carl Thompsen, which landed him a stern five-year prison sentence for conspiracy to traffic marijuana.
3 Doug Harvey
With 7 Norris Trophies, it’s safe to say that Doug Harvey is one of the best defencemen in NHL history. Unfortunately, hockey was about the only thing that Harvey knew, so when he retired from the NHL in 1969, he was left with no education, no work skills, and therefore no way to find a job, and he was forced to make a meager living by playing in minor-pro leagues.
2 Camille Henry
Back when Camille Henry was in the NHL (1953-70), players didn’t earn nearly as much money as they do today, which is why many fell on hard times after retiring--and Henry was no exception. A solid player in his day, with a career best 37 goals with the Rangers during the 1962-63 season, not long after retiring he was virtually broke. And his financial situation wasn’t helped by his alcoholism.
Described as a “poverty stricken loner” by greatesthockeylegends.com, Henry (or “The Eel,” as he was sometimes known) also had two divorces and suffered from diabetes and epilepsy.
1 Derek Sanderson
Why not end on a positive note?
Derek Sanderson’s life has been a financial rollercoaster. After playing for the Boston Bruins for five seasons, he signed a $2.6 million contract with the Philadelphia Blazers of the now-defunct World Hockey Association, which at the time was attempting to compete with the NHL. Although ultimately a failure due to injuries, the contract made Sanderson the highest paid athlete in the world at the time. After essentially being booted from the WHA, he returned to the NHL but was unable to capture his former glory and saw limited playing time for the rest of his career.
Things got much worse for the man they called “Turk” after retiring. Due to a string of ill-advised investments that he made during his playing days, Sanderson quickly went from being the highest paid athlete in the world to virtually destitute, and with a substance abuse problem to boot.
Bobby Orr wound up being Sanderson’s saving grace, checking his former teammate, along with several other former Bruins teammates, into rehab in the late ‘70s. After overcoming his addictions, Sanderson turned his life around and is now a financial advisor of all things, giving financial advice to professional athletes so that they won’t make the same mistakes that he did.
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