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Willie Mitchell #33 of the Los Angeles Kings looks on as Cory Schneider #35 of the Vancouver Canucks stacks his pads to make a save off Henrik Sedin #33 of the Vancouver Canucks during an informal skate at UBC in Vancouver September 18, 2012. (Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail)
Willie Mitchell #33 of the Los Angeles Kings looks on as Cory Schneider #35 of the Vancouver Canucks stacks his pads to make a save off Henrik Sedin #33 of the Vancouver Canucks during an informal skate at UBC in Vancouver September 18, 2012. (Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail)

NHL Lockout

NHL players awash in rainy-day funds Add to ...

Here’s one reason the NHL lockout might last longer than many fans expect; many players are in surprisingly good financial shape thanks to months of preparation by their financial advisers.

“The players are in a much better situation this time than during the last lockout just because history taught not only us, but them, how to prepare for such a possible scenario,” said Darwin Schandor, who leads Royal Bank’s sports professionals team, which advises hundreds of athletes, coaches and team executives. “I haven’t seen too many of our player clients in a situation of worry or concern as it relates to their affairs.”

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Several financial planners who work with NHL players say they spent last spring and summer preparing for a possible lockout by building up their client’s cash positions, securing lines of credit and clearing debt.

“You just hold a little bit more cash and a little bit more short-term savings so that if they do have to redeem investments, or they do have to start getting distributions from their portfolio, you are not necessarily susceptible to the fluctuations in the [stock] market,” said Matthew Bacchiochi, co-founder of the Gavin Management Group in Toronto, which handles money for about 40 NHL players. Bacchiochi said most of his clients are virtually debt-free, which cuts their fixed costs. And many have taken advantage of low interest rates to secure lines of credit worth up to $100,000.

While players won’t be drawing their NHL salaries they will be earning some cash. Several on U.S.-based teams have been receiving tax-refund cheques this month from various states that have much later tax filing deadlines than Canada.

All players also participate in a kind of forced savings plan that didn’t exist during the previous lockout. Under the current labour agreement, NHL teams set aside 8.5 per cent of player salaries during the season and put the cash in escrow until the end of the year when the league reconciles its revenue with the salary cap. Once that’s done, all or some of the money is either held by the league or returned to the players. Based on this year’s calculation the players will be getting back nearly all of the money in escrow and cheques will be arriving this month. For a player earning $2-million annually that will be around $170,000. There’s also a stipend from the NHL Players’ Association, expected to be around $10,000 a month.

Players’ living costs also drop substantially during a work stoppage. They don’t pay their agents, who typically charge roughly 3 per cent in annual commissions. Financial adviser fees could also fall since they are usually based on a percentage of total assets.

Those players who don’t catch on in Europe or elsewhere will also save a bundle on insurance. Players who go overseas usually have to arrange their own insurance to cover a career-ending injury. That can cost well over $100,000. But those stuck at home can opt for less coverage, which goes for as little as $10,000.

Overall, players have got a lot smarter about their money since the last lockout, says Stew Gavin, who runs Gavin Management. Most now have financial advisers and many players have been put on strict monthly budgets, sometimes with limits imposed on their credit cards. “Even if they lose the season, for the majority of our players it is not an issue,” Gavin said.

Players have adjusted their financial expectations, said Raymond Jacques, a financial adviser who runs New England Schooner, Inc. in Peabody, Mass. “They have to be willing to accept lower rates of return in order to have that safety net and that liquidity,” he said. Jacques added that while the S&P 500 Index is up more than 15 per cent this year, his clients’ portfolios are only up roughly 5 per cent. “We’re always conservative. We keep intact what they have and keep it somewhat liquid.”

Like many other advisers, Jacques isn’t expecting to see NHL hockey for months. His best guess to the end of the lockout? December.

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