Historically, the NHL, and hockey in general, is rooted in a “blue collar” narrative. Back in the day even the most well known NHLers would have off-season jobs, contributing to the narrative that hockey was a game, yet one still had to work to feed his family. If we fast-forward the story of professional hockey to the present, things have undoubtedly changed, at least on the surface of things. However, the reality of an NHL career, if one does make it to “the show,” is not one of longevity, but rather represents a very brief period – as the average NHL career is 5.65 seasons or 248.02 games.
And to this day, despite a strong players’ union, the huge contracts and the accompanying glamour, the endorsements and a league that now boasts 30 teams (which empirically ought to translate into more fulfilled dreams and more opportunity), the “blue collar” narrative has changed very little. Tim Horton’s, frozen ponds, moms and dads warming up the car at the crack of dawn, the friendly wave from the Zamboni driver, and eventually a Stanley Cup – hockey is woven into the fabric of hockey towns across the world.
In sum, with such a relatively short career, even assuming that most players have made responsible financial choices along the way, what do these guys do when the show is over? In most cases, if at all possible, ex NHLers tend to stay with the game in some fashion: broadcasting, commentating, coaching, scouting, consulting, and public relations type work at both the professional and amateur level. In other cases though, many ex NHLers’ lives take a different direction and life becomes, in a word, “regular,” which is a relative term in this context. In both situations the short of it is this; the transition from the NHL to normalcy is not an easy one, yet it is a reality that many former pro hockey players struggle with. Are retired NHLers flocking to the factories like the days of old? Not exactly, but some go on to do some interesting jobs once they leave the game. Here are 15 retired NHL players who settled into regular jobs after the final whistle.
15 Marcel Dionne
From a numbers standpoint alone, Marcel Dionne’s necessarily becomes part of the conversation when talking hockey’s greatest players - after Gretzky, Orr, and Lemieux. Dionne reached 100 points eight times and was part of the LA Kings famed “Triple Crown Line.” With Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor, Dionne and his line mates each scored over 100 points in 1980-81. Today, although still close to the game, Dionne owns and operates Marcel Dionne Inc., a sports memorabilia store in Niagara Falls, ON, coupled with The BlueLine Diner where, according to his website, “often you will find Marcel chatting with the customers about current events and past accomplishments.”
14 John Tonelli
A four-time Stanley Cup winner with the New York Islanders, and skating to 100 points in 1984-85, John Tonelli lasted 17 years in professional hockey (3 of which were in the WHA). Tagged as “The Greasy Jet” by teammates, Tonelli’s best years in the NHL were in New York, where he now resides and provides mortgages working for Fidelity National Financial. Playing most of his career alongside the likes of Bossy, Trottier, and Potvin, John Tonelli was known for his work ethic along the boards and in the corners, and providing the Islanders with some big goals in the process.
13 Al Secord
After 12 seasons in the NHL, one of which saw him net 54 goals, Al Secord made the transition from Left Wing to the Cockpit. That’s correct, this retired power forward is now a commercial airline pilot with American Airlines. Specifically, he flies the MD-80, hauling anywhere from 130 to 172 passengers at a time across America. Hired as a pilot at 40 years old, Secord says people don’t realize he is a former NHLer, with the exception of flights to and from Chicago. Secord also spent 2093 minutes in the penalty box and was an All-Star selection on two occasions.
12 Randy Gregg
As part of an Oiler team with an "offense first” philosophy, and winning 5 Stanley Cups along the way, Randy Gregg was the dependable blueliner who stayed home. Gregg was always somewhat of an anomaly in the NHL, as he attended the University of Alberta and was pursuing a degree in medicine prior to turning pro. Today, Dr. Randy Gregg practices at the Edmonton Sport Institute, where he specializes in sports related injuries.
11 Brian Bellows
With an NHL career that began in the basement of the old Norris Division, and with comparisons to Gretzky looming over him, Brian Bellows had a stellar run as a pro, grabbing 1,022 points along the way. Most of Bellows’ glory days were spent with the Minnesota North Stars, where he captained the North Stars to the Stanley Cup final in 1990-91, where his squad eventually fell to Lemieux’s Penguins. After the NHL Bellows went into finance; he is a broker-dealer with Piper Jaffray & Co and holds an industry securities registration.
10 Denis Savard
Before the word “dangle” became part of hockey’s lexicon, this guy was doing it. Selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1980 entry draft, Denis Savard began and finished his career in Chicago, with stints in Montreal and Tampa inbetween. Most memorable about Denis’ game was his highlight reel goals, where he would literally skate though, around, and between an entire opposition before lighting the lamp. In his post-NHL job, Savard now heads Denis Savard Enterprises, Inc., “a business venture that is committed to providing high quality products to the people of Chicago.”
9 Ken Dryden
Ken Dryden’s story may be a familiar one, yet it’s still impressive and certainly unique. Please follow along: Dryden was drafted in 1964 by the Boston Bruins and traded to the Montreal Canadiens, he then chose not to play, but rather went down to Cornell University and earned a degree in History. He then played for Montreal in the 1971 playoffs (basically last minute) and won the Conn Smythe, he won the Calder in 1972, played in the 1972 Summit Series, then left the NHL to earn his law degree from McGill University, returned to the NHL to win five Stanley Cups with the Canadiens, retired into politics and became a Member of Parliament and wrote several books. Enough said.
8 Gary Roberts
The phrase “blue collar work ethic” and the name Gary Roberts are synonymous. Truly a player’s player, Roberts clutched a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989 and was a 50+ goal man in 1991-92. Since retiring from the NHL, Roberts went straight to work, although still close to the game. Basically, he started by training Steven Stamkos 1 on 1, putting him through grueling workouts in a three month off -season training session. Today, any NHLer that wants to get in the best possible shape goes to Roberts; his program focuses on high intensity training, endurance, and a strict organic diet. He currently works out of the High Performance Institute in North York, ON and the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex just outside of Pittsburgh.
7 Donald Brashear
There is a professional hockey league in Quebec called the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey (the Quebec Semi-Pro League), where bloodthirsty fans crave, and usually receive, what they pay for. In 2010, after NHL teams were just plain uninterested in his services, Donald Brashear went home to Quebec to play the game he stilled loved, and to fight. He did play a handful of games in the Swedish League in 2014 and he also co-owns DEC Construction company, where he has actually been seen “on the job."
6 Ken Linseman
How would you feel about buying real estate from a guy called “The Rat?’ After a lengthy pro career that saw Ken Linseman start way more fights than he finished, Linseman now resides in the Boston area in the commercial real estate business. Although one of the NHL’s most famous agitators, Linseman could also play. In 1984, he skated on a line with Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson, which culminated with a Stanley Cup. And, as it turns out, rats do like water – Linseman is an avid surfer.
5 Guy Lafleur
Sadly, “The Flower” isn’t blooming of late. After recently losing a civil suit, where Guy Lafleur claimed that his reputation had been tarnished over an arrest, one that had more to do with his son than himself, Lafluer was arrested and found guilty of misleading a judge with contradictory testimony in 2009, which was overturned on appeal in 2010. Aside from that, his career speaks for itself. And his three-year retirement, which he came out of for three additional seasons, is testimony to how much he loved playing hockey. Lafleur is also a helicopter pilot and has a helicopter rental company.
4 Wilf Paiement
Known as the other number 99 during an era of the Toronto Maple Leafs that was almost unwatchable (kind of like the present), Wilf Paiement actually tallied 97 points from the bottom of the Adams Division in 1980-81. Drafted second overall in 1974, the numbers reveal Paiement as a steady performer with a mix of respectable point totals and significant penalty minutes. Many may remember Paiement’s Lean’s ad that had him playing up the number 99, coupled with a surname pun about “payments.” Wilf is President of Paiement Development Corporation.
3 Brent Gretzky
Although he didn’t wear number 99, the surname couldn’t be helped. Brent Gretzky played a total of 13 games in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning between 1993 and 1995. Brent went on to a minor-pro career, mostly in the UHL, before retiring in 2006. Presently, and since 2010, Brent Gretzky is with the Ontario Provincial Police as a police officer. He works out of Brant County, Ontario.
2 Patrick Cote
For the sake of argument, the job title of this former NHLer is “bank robber.” Patrick Cote played in the NHL from 1995 to 2001 with Dallas, Nashville and Edmonton, before retreating to the LNAH (that fight league that Brashear played in). In 2014, Cote, who already possessed an impressive wrap sheet by this time, pled guilty to robbing two banks in the Montreal area – in the same month. In 105 NHL games, Cote had 3 points and 377 minutes in the box.
1 Sean Avery
Always the center of attention and mired in controversy, Sean Avery makes Ken Linseman look like a Lady Byng candidate. And when looking at his stats alone, you have to wonder how he managed to stay in the NHL for 12 seasons; he wasn’t an enforcer and couldn’t muster 40 points in a single season – he also negotiated a few good contracts along the way. Avery though seemed to always have an exit strategy and continuously dabbled in other interests while playing professional hockey. His “jobs” off the ice have included: restaurant owner, fashion model, and a Don Draper ad man. Avery has also campaigned for same-sex marriage and ending homophobia in sports. Like him or hate him, Sean Avery’s article “Transition Season” in The Players Tribune is a worthwhile read.