Like skiing or dressage, hockey is an example of a sport that is prohibitively expensive for many families. For starters, the gear is really expensive. Then, you’ve got to pay for team fees, as well as many training camps and skating lessons if you want to have any hope of competing at a high level and getting drafted into the NHL. While NHL salaries are huge, most people who play hockey as kid don’t make it anywhere close to playing at the NHL level, and so they end up paying tens of thousands of dollars for what is essentially just a very expensive hobby.
Because of the costs associated with playing hockey, its players tend to be from much richer backgrounds than North America’s other popular professional sports. Take basketball for instance. All you need to become very good is a ball and access to an outdoor court. The same goes for soccer, which is the world’s most played sport because of its affordability and accessibility. There is no shortage of soccer, baseball, football, and basketball players who are from disadvantaged circumstances, but it’s a lot more rare in hockey. On this list, you’ll find many examples of hockey players from millionaire families, as well as some notable players who come from very poor backgrounds.
17 Money: Mike Comrie
As a guy who played quite a few seasons in the NHL and was a pretty good player—scoring thirty goals in a season on multiple occasions—Mike Comrie has never been hurting for money. But it’s surprising that he’s nowhere near the richest member of his family. His dad is Bill Comrie, a Canadian businessman who founded the Canadian furniture chain The Brick. Bill Comrie is said to be worth around $500 million, which absolutely dwarfs Mike Comrie’s net worth of approximately $5 million. Bill is also a partial owner of the Chicago Cubs. Mike Comrie is nowhere near as rich as his ex-wife Hilary Duff either, evidenced by the fact that she had to pay him $2.5 million when they got divorced. Mike Comrie has two brothers that were also professional hockey players, and his dad was a pro hockey player too, which kind of goes to show that money can take you a long way when it comes to hockey.
16 Poverty: Bobby Ryan
Given everything that Bobby Ryan had to go through growing up, it’s kind of unbelievable that he was able to block out the distractions well enough to become such a good hockey player. His birth name isn’t Bobby Ryan. He was born as Robert Shane Stevenson, but his father frequently changed the family’s name because he was a criminal on the run from the law. His dad abused his mother and injured her very badly and was charged with attempted murder. He escaped to Canada with Bobby, where he supported them as a professional gambler while his son played elite youth hockey, ending up drafted second overall into the NHL. His dad was arrested for his crimes in 2010, while Bobby Ryan is currently being paid more than $7 million a year to play for the Ottawa Senators, and has been a reliable performer in the NHL for years.
15 Money: Alex Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin is no longer young, but he is still one of the absolute top goal scorers in the NHL, and so he is still getting paid the big bucks. As of this year, he’s making $10 million every year, and he will continue to make that much until 2021. There’s no doubt that he’ll retire as one of the highest paid NHL players of all time. Ovechkin has attributed a lot of his success to the fact that he’s from a rich family that provided him with every advantage growing up. His parents bought him his first hockey gear when he was two years old. He has said that his family always had money and bought him the absolute nicest gear and jerseys from a young age. He has credited his family’s wealth in his ability to stay level-headed about his own money over the course of his career. Because he grew up rich, he did not become a different person when he started making millions.
12 Poverty: Patrick O’Sullivan
Patrick O’Sullivan didn’t play in the NHL for all that long, but given the circumstances that he grew up having to deal with, it’s surprising that he was able to make it to the NHL at all. His dad was a minor league hockey player who abused Patrick both physically and mentally for years. His dad would scream at him and beat him when he played badly, and would whip him when he messed up. His father would even lock him outside of the house during freezing Ontario winters in order to teach him a lesson. Eventually, Patrick filed charges against his dad, obtained a restraining order, and ended up writing articles and a book about his troubled childhood. While he didn’t live without money, he experienced extreme poverty when it comes to emotional support and care, which must have been even harder to deal with.
11 Money: Joffrey Lupul
One of the highest paid guys on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ roster is Joffrey Lupul, which has got to be annoying for them since he hasn’t played a game in well over a year now. There have been reports of funny business with how the Leafs use their long term injury reserve to bury unwanted contracts, as was the case with Stephane Robidas. Lupul has been have back problems, but he’s still a young guy. Maybe part of the reason that he hasn’t returned to action is because he doesn’t particularly need the money. His grandfather was a partial owner of the Edmonton Oilers, who Lupul used to play for. His dad is a high earning lawyer. The Leafs don’t really need Lupul, and Lupul isn’t hard up for money, so it seems unlikely that he’ll rejoin the NHL any time soon.
10 Poverty: Theo Fleury
Theo Fleury rose to become one of the highest scoring and highest paid NHL players in the world in the ‘90s, but he has stressed that he would not have been able to play the game of hockey at all if he hadn’t been financially supported by the community that he grew up in. His dad was a promising hockey player who broke his leg and became an alcoholic. His dad worked as a truck driver but didn’t make enough to pay for his sons to play hockey, so the community chipped in to send Theo to hockey camps to encourage his development. Theo’s underprivileged circumstances lead him to become a tough youth, who would bully others and get in fights. Now, in retirement, he has made an effort to give back to his community and support kids who don’t have the money to play hockey. He has said that, over the course of his NHL career, he was very wasteful with money, earning and spending $50 million like it was nothing.
9 Money: Paul Stastny
There’s no doubt that money is an important factor when it comes to becoming a professional hockey play, as access to quality gear, elite training, and even simple things like good nutrition can be all it takes to get a young player off to a head start over their peers. If you take a rich family and pair that with a parent who was a successful NHL star, it’s even more of an advantage, as they can can give their child knowledge and tips about how to prepare for and excel in the NHL. Paul Stastny is an alternate captain for the St. Louis Blues and is a good hockey player, but his career will always be overshadowed by his father, Peter Stastny, who is known by the nickname “Peter the Great.” He was one of the first players from the Eastern Bloc to make the move to the NHL, and he went on to be the second highest scoring player of the ‘80s, behind only Wayne Gretzky. He’s currently a politician in the Czech Republic. No matter how good Paul Stastny plays for the rest of his career, he will always trail his father both in points and in earnings, when adjusted for inflation.
8 Poverty: Donald Brashear
One of the most upsetting hockey videos you can see is the one in which Marty McSorley strikes Donald Brashear on the head with his stick, sending Brashear to the ice in an unconscious heap. That was the only way to take Brashear down, though. He was one of the toughest guys in the league and is one of the NHL’s all-time leaders in penalty minutes. His tough on-ice attitude is likely the result of a very difficult childhood. His father was an abusive alcoholic, slashing Donald with cords and throwing him through a window when he was less than one year old. Fearing for her life, Donald’s mom left their dad, only to move in with a new man who was racist towards Donald and abused him also. He was then sent to live in foster care. He bounced between foster homes that didn’t accept him because he was too troubled, until he ended up in one where he ended up learning to play hockey. He was signed as a free agent by the Montreal Canadiens when he was twenty, and used the game of hockey to turn his troubled life around.
7 Money: Landon Ferraro
Like many NHL players who come from notable hockey families, it must be tough for Landon Ferraro to establish himself as an independent person outside of the shadow of his father’s fame. Ray Ferraro, his dad, had a very long NHL career in which he put him significant points. He played from the mid-80s until the early 2000s, and once he retired he started working in broadcasting, now providing colour commentary for many games. As a colour commentator, he’s an annoying guy, with a kind of whiny, smug attitude that he feels entitled to because of his success. Landon Ferraro has played only 77 games in the NHL since being drafted in 2009, often getting traded and failing to make an impact on any team. If he fails to have a successful NHL career, he has only himself to blame, as he was raised in a hockey family with money, resources, and good hockey genes.
6 Poverty: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was a first overall pick and is a reliable producer for the Edmonton Oilers. That has good to feel good for him, considering that when he was younger, his family was so poor that he had to take a year off from playing hockey because his family couldn’t afford the team fees, even though their son was clearly an extremely promising hockey player. Apparently Nugent-Hopkins spent that year playing on outdoor rinks with his friends every day, determined to keep improving and to be ready when his family had enough money to enrol him in hockey again. He’s making $6 million per year, and seems poised for a long NHL career. Now, he’s a big time supporter of families who don’t have money to put their kids in sports.
5 Money: Brett Hull
It’s pretty crazy that Brett Hull is the fourth highest goal scorer in the history of the NHL but he is still probably not the best player in his family, as his dad Bobby is regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the game. Bobby Hull was an incredible scorer for years in the NHL, but was unsatisfied with the relatively small contracts he was offered. He signed a contract of over $2 million for ten years in the WHA, which was a rival league to the NHL. At the time, it was easily the largest contract in the history of the sport, making Bobby Hull the world’s richest hockey player. His son Brett was an incredible scorer that never seemed to have to work very hard to succeed. That attitude likely came with the money he was surrounded by growing up. The stakes were never all that high for Brett Hull, but that didn’t stop him from becoming one of the greatest snipers ever.
4 Poverty: Jordin Tootoo
A trend that has emerged in this list is that many of the poor or disadvantaged players who managed to have NHL success are Canadians of First Nations background. In Canada, First Nations people often suffer hardships disproportionate to the rest of the population, particularly on reserves. Jordin Tootoo hasn’t played in the NHL this year, but he is considered to be one of the league’s best agitators, as he is willing to fight, bother, and distract players on other teams in order to help his team. Growing up, his brother committed suicide after being arrested for drunk driving. He has had troubles with alcohol and had to undergo treatment for addiction. Still, he is a great role model as someone who grew up in a rural, poor community and found a way to play hockey on the world’s biggest stage.
3 Money: Joe Colborne
Joe Colborne was a first-round draft pick from 2008 who put up good point totals for the Calgary Flames before being traded to the Colorado Avalanche. He’s currently playing in the minors, but whatever happens with his career, he probably isn’t all that concerned with his earnings. He’s currently making $2.5 million per year, which is way less than his dad Paul makes, who is a CEO for an energy company. Paul’s yearly income varies with the success of his company, but he has made as much as $13 million in 2013, which is more than it is possible for an NHL player to be paid under the current salary cap rules. As such, Joe will never be able to make as much money as his dad, but at least he doesn’t have to live with the guilt of working in the oil industry.
2 Poverty: Steve Downie
Another common trend on this list is that players from disadvantaged homes often grow up to be enforcers and scrappy players in the NHL, while players who grew up rich grow up to be skill guys, with less toughness but better hands. Jordin Tootoo, Donald Brashear, and Steve Downie have all been suspended for playing too rough, and Downie in particular has been getting in trouble ever since he was in junior, when he cross-checked a teammate in the face during practice. Downie had a long, controversial career in the NHL, in which he alternated between being effective as an energy guy and taking things too far and getting suspended. Back in 1996, Steve Downie’s dad died during a car accident while driving Steve to hockey practice. He also grew up deaf in one ear due to an illness, and has to wear a hearing aid. Given these challenges and a generally difficult childhood in a lower-class home, many of Downie’s behavioral problems are excusable, and his NHL success should be celebrated.
1 Money: Sam Gagner
If you watch Sam Gagner play, you can kind of tell he was a rich kid growing up. He never makes gritty plays, but has some of the best hands around and became famous over the years for his stunning shootout moves, which he probably learned in expensive hockey camps when he was younger. His dad is Dave Gagner, who spent fifteen seasons playing in the NHL. Dave Gagner is still only 53, and he has an ice rink business and is a director of a player agent business, so it’s safe to say he’s still raking in money in the world of hockey. Sam Gagner’s best days are behind him and he’s currently a pretty ineffective player for the Vancouver Canucks, making around $3 million for the next few years.