The NHL has been underfunding its players' pension plans by millions of dollars, shortchanging widows over a number of decades, an Ontario Superior Court judge has found.
The decision means the league will have to top up its pension fund by as much as $30-million and may have to make retroactive payments to the widows of deceased players.
The suit, brought forward last year by the NHL Players' Association, charged that errors in the calculation of pensions for players who died before 1986 meant their widows received as little as 10 per cent of the funds entitled to them.
NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly said the union was happy about the decision but hasn't had enough time to completely digest it.
"We're very pleased the court has ruled in favour of the position we advocated," he said last night. "Namely, the desire to protect the rights and interests of former players and the widows of former players.
"We are still studying the decision. We will get together with the trustees from the league in a week or so to see how we will implement this."
This is the second major pension battle the NHL has lost. In a 1993 decision, Ontario Judge George Adams found the league had appropriated surplus cash that should have remained in the pension fund. The league had to restore $50-million to the fund.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will have to take the latest ruling to franchise owners, possibly as early as today's board of governors meeting in Montreal. Clubs will have to provide the money to top up the pension fund.
The NHL will have the opportunity to appeal the decision.