It is certainly not uncommon for professional athletes to lose large sums of money or even to go bankrupt after their playing days have ended, as it appears that there are relatively frequent news items detailing a former millionaire’s precipitous fall from financial grace. It seems that the pitfalls of sudden wealth are much more common among NFL and NBA athletes, but that does not mean that NHLers are completely immune. Many former hockey players have experienced significant loss following the end of their professional hockey careers, and some have even filed for bankruptcy while still in the league.
Financial woes are just one component of the problem. Many NHLers find themselves struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol and wind up losing everything important to them as a result. It may seem unfathomable that an individual who earned so much money throughout the course a professional hockey career could lose everything, but it happens much more frequently than many realize.
Those with sudden wealth are often targeted and taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals who seek money for fraudulent investments, while others are taken advantage of by agents engaging in unsavory business practices. There are even examples of immediate family members taking advantage of a professional contract to secure loans or to make investments on the player’s behalf without the player’s knowledge. The pitfalls that hockey players face are many and it is undeniably difficult to properly manage a massive amount of income with so many people looking to take advantage of the newly wealthy. Unfortunately for the following 20 NHLers, the pitfalls of a life in professional hockey proved to be their undoing and caused them to lose everything.
Some of these stories have happy endings, as the players were able to recover after losing everything, but others are sadder tales, that lead to very sad conclusions to their stories.
20 Darren McCarty
McCarty found himself filing for bankruptcy while he was still playing in the NHL, something that is actually not at all uncommon among players. McCarty filed while playing for the Calgary Flames, citing the previous season’s lockout as a major factor in his need to file for bankruptcy, according to ESPN. In his filing, McCarty, who was involved in over 200 on-ice fights during his long NHL career, cited debts totaling well over $6 million while having less than $2 million in assets at the time.
19 Sergei Gonchar
Gonchar was one of the many players targeted in the Phil Kenner debacle, and Gonchar was one of up to 19 NHLers who were defrauded of as much as $25 million as part of an investment to develop golf courses, hotels and condos on property in Mexico. One of Kenner’s partners, real estate investor Ken Jowdy, allegedly blew all of the investment dollars on adult entertainers and party girls” according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the NHLers involved.
18 Ray Whitney
The Wizard’s 22-year NHL career is probably one of the more underrated careers in recent memory, and unfortunately for Whitney, some of the earnings from his playing career were lost to a poor investment headed by Len Barrie, the former owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Whitney was one of 18 NHLers bilked out of investment dollars, as the former left-winger lost $3 million in the failed Bear Mountain golf resort deal. Whitney’s investment was among the more sizable investments made by former NHLers, but he was certainly not the only one to lose a significant sum of money in the deal.
17 Mike Vernon
Vernon is yet another NHLer who was lured into investing in the Bear Mountain project by Len Barrie, and his was by far the biggest loss of the whole deal. Vernon put up a total of $9.6 million into the failed project, according to The Globe and Mail, which would represent a significant chunk of the earnings Vernon made during his 20-year career as an NHL goaltender. The six-time All Star’s investment included $2 million in addition to a $7.6 million loan guarantee from HSBC.
16 Doug Harvey
One of the game’s best defensemen, Harvey struggled with alcoholism throughout his post-playing days and ultimately died of complications from cirrhosis of the liver. Harvey also dealt with mental health issues, and the NHL pioneer lived out the remainder of his life in a train car placed at the Connaught Park Racetrack, according to habseyesontheprize.com. The seven-time Norris Trophy winner and 1973 Hall of Fame inductee dealt with bipolar disorder throughout his playing career and in the years that followed, and his mental illness certainly played a role in his post-career struggles.
15 Derek Sanderson
Sanderson squandered his earnings so quickly that he ultimately ended up broke and homeless despite having secured a massive sum of money -- $2.65 million – considering the era he played in. The full amount of the contract was paid up front, and Sanderson, after giving his lawyer power of attorney over his income, spent it on illegal substances, lavish expenditures and ill-advised investments, according to The Globe and Mail. Sanderson eventually found sobriety and became a financial adviser himself, using his personal experience to help others avoid the situation he encountered during the 1970s.
14 Dany Heatley
As has been the case with many professional athletes who have lost millions, Heatley was taken advantage of by a financial adviser he had entrusted. In 2012, Heatley filed a lawsuit seeking $11 million in damages from Stacey McAlpine, with the suit alleging that McAlpine made $4 million worth of unauthorized withdrawals from Heatley's bank account in addition to allegations of "conspiracy, oppression, breach of fiduciary obligation and unjust enrichment," according to The Globe and Mail. It was later discovered that McAlpine was also being sued by Chris Phillips over a loss of $7.5 million under circumstances similar to Heatley's.
13 Kevin Stevens
At the time of his transgressions, it seemed that there would be no coming back for Kevin Stevens. After being arrested alongside a 'lady of the night,' while in possession of $500 worth of an illegal substamce, Stevens faced felony charges in Missouri, according to The New York Times. The fact that Stevens was married with two kids and another on the way only made the incident all the more lurid, but Stevens ultimately entered the NHL’s substance abuse program and was able to play two more seasons of uneven hockey in the NHL before retiring in 2002. He was once a promising athletes who was a strong student in school, before inevitably losing it all due to substance abuse.
12 Mike Modano
Modano is one of the more financially savvy NHLers to appear on this list, but that still did not prevent him from losing a significant amount of money to bad investments during his 21-year playing career. After spending more than the first decade of his career being very careful with his earnings, Modano decided he had earned enough money to take a risk on an investment in the entertainment industry that ultimately cost him as much as $4 million, according to The Globe and Mail. Fortunately for Modano, he was able to recover from his financial errors and was able to learn from his mistakes over the remainder of his career, something that many other NHLers were unable to do.
11 Michael Peca
Peca was yet another NHLer who found himself robbed of a significant portion of his career earnings due to his involvement with Phil Kenner, who was alleged to have made off with as much as $25 million worth of investments made by members of the hockey fraternity. Peca invested in the development of a golf course in Mexico, but according to court documents, Kenner took that money and used it to personally invest in a number of unrelated projects that included a tequila company in Mexico, according to BuffaloNews.com. Peca and the other NHLers filed a civil suit against Kenner to recoup their lost investment dollars, and Kenner is currently in jail awaiting trial.
10 Chris Nilan
Knuckles, who is best remembered for his propensity to fight on the ice, has been able to recover from his past issues, but was involved in a number of incidents and behaviors that led to others on this list to lose it all. Nilan dealt with an addiction to a highly illegal substance and also struggled with alcohol and prescription drugs, and in 2009 was arrested for shoplifting in Massachusetts after attempting to steal a bathing suit from Lord & Taylor, according to The Boston Globe.
Nilan now hosts a radio program in Montreal, and he frequently speaks openly and honestly about the issues that nearly proved to be his undoing in his post-career life. Of his addiction, Nilan told the Boston Globe, “I was playing Russian roulette every night with five bullets in the gun. Not one. Five. I was surviving. I was trying to get through that sickness. Until I was able to ask for help, I was on a collision course with death.”
9 Theo Fleury
Fleury’s struggles with illegal substance addiction and alcohol abuse are well documented, and there is no doubt that his substance abuse and gambling habits caused him financial issues and also led to him losing precious years of what may have been a standout NHL career. Fleury wrote a book, Playing With Fire, that detailed his struggles, including how he seriously contemplated and nearly committed suicide. Though he made a brief attempt at a comeback with the Calgary Flames in 2009, Fleury’s career essentially ended when he violated the NHL’s substance abuse program in 2003.
8 Bryan Berard
Berard, a former top overall pick in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, was targeted and taken advantage of by Phil Kenner and Tommy Constantine, both of whom were arrested and charged in connection with a fraudulent investment scheme that cost several NHLers millions of dollars. Berard, who was instrumental in helping the FBI secure the eventual arrest of Kenner and Constantine, estimated that he had lost as much as $6 million in the scam, which included fraudulent real estate investments, forged lines of credit and investments in startup companies, according to the NY Daily News.
7 Bobby Orr
The Bruins legend responsible for one of the most iconic sports moments in the history of Boston sports was not immune to the pitfalls of wealth and fell victim to financial mismanagement during his playing career. His agent, the notorious Alan Eagleson, led Orr to near-bankruptcy despite the $3-million contract Orr had been awarded after leaving Boston for Chicago in 1976. Orr owed “hundreds of thousands in back taxes and legal and accounting fees” following his retirement due to his association with Eagleson, according to The Globe and Mail. He has since recovered from these problems and is now a player-agent, ensuring that these problems don't happen to future NHLers, like future first overall pick Connor McDavid.
6 Sergei Fedorov
In yet another case of an NHLer trusting the wrong people with their finances, Fedorov was forced to play well into his forties in the KHL. While he stated that his joining the KHL had to do with fulfilling his dream of playing alongside his sons, there is good reason to believe that there was a financial motivation as well. Fedorov sued a former business partner – who had embezzled a significant portion of Federov’s career earnings -- for $60 million but was unable to collect on the judgment. The financial troubles led to Fedorov having to deal with foreclosures on multiple homes and collectors making attempts to repossess his luxury cars, according to NBC Sports.
5 Slava Voynov
Voynov has been recently charged with felony domestic violence that could carry a maximum sentence of nine years in prison should he be convicted. According to the Los Angeles Times, the police report alleged that Voynov had punched his wife in the jaw, choked her and then kicked her while she was on the ground. The NHL suspended Voynov indefinitely, and it is hard to imagine he will be able to return to the ice anytime soon given the severity of the charges he is currently facing, especially considering the growing nationwide concern and outrage over matters of domestic violence in sports. He had just signed a $25 million dollar contract that would've spanned six years, and it's possible he'll never see a huge portion of that money.
4 Steve Durbano
Durbano’s nickname, “Mental Case,” is quite fitting given his lengthy history of legal issues that include illegal substance trafficking and prostitution. Durbano was noted for his toughness on the ice, and in the 1975-76 season he led the NHL in penalty minutes by accumulating 370 in total while playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Kansas City Scouts. After his career ended, however, he would spend time in a different kind of penalty box, as Durbano served seven years in prison after attempting to import $500,000 worth of an illegal white substance into Canada, according to The Best Pittsburgh Sports Arguments. He troubles didn’t end following his release, as he was again sent to prison in 1995 for attempting to lure an undercover police officer to work an illegal escort ring.
3 Brian “Spinner” Spencer
Spencer’s troubles likely began with an incident in which his father was shot dead by the RCMP. Spencer’s father, infuriated by the fact that the local TV station was not broadcasting his son’s game, held the station hostage and was ultimately killed in a shootout with the RCMP. Spencer's career would include stints with the Maple Leafs, Islanders, Sabres and Penguins, but his retirement would be marred by illegal substances, violence and an accusation of murder. Spencer was acquitted on all counts relating to the murder, but he was ultimately shot and killed during a robbery involving an illegal substance purchase.
2 Bryan Trottier
Trottier enjoyed a long and prosperous 18-year NHL career that saw his name etched on the Stanley Cup on six different occasions, but his NHL success did not translate to success in the business world. Shortly after his retirement, Trottier was forced to file for bankruptcy after his ice-rink business went into foreclosure. At the time of the filing, Trottier, who was working at the time as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins, listed less than $150,000 in assets while owing nearly $10 million to creditors, according to The New York Times.
1 Jack Johnson
In an unbelievable string of events, Johnson was forced to file for bankruptcy due to the poor financial decisions made by his own parents. Johnson had entrusted the people who had raised him to manage his finances so he could focus on his hockey career, which turned out to be such a massive mistake that Johnson himself has said that he trusted “the wrong people.” His parents made so many poor financial decisions that Johnson claimed in the bankruptcy filing that he had was in debt to the tune of $10 million and had less than $50,000 worth of assets, according to Sports Illustrated. The situation is so awful that Johnson’s $5 million salary is currently being garnished. Hopefully, he'll have a long career in the league and be able to come back from this difficult portion of his life.