30 Thoughts: Financial woes not unique to Johnson

Columbus Blue Jackets' Jack Johnson moves the puck against the Ottawa Senators during an NHL hockey game in Columbus, Ohio. Johnson has filed for bankruptcy while earning millions under a $30.5 million contract in his ninth NHL season. (Paul Vernon/AP)

Bryan Berard opened the email sent by his brother and pressed the link. Then, he read The Columbus Dispatch story about Jack Johnson’s bankruptcy.

“Hard situation,” Berard said Thursday afternoon. “That’s tough. That’s your family.”

Berard understands what Johnson is going through. He lost several million dollars in a scam that has seen two men, Tommy Constantine and Phil Kenner, arrested and indicted on charges ranging from money-laundering to wire fraud.

The New York Daily News reported the indictment indicates Kenner and Constantine “organized a scheme telling victims their money would be invested in real estate ventures, privately held companies and a legal defence fund when in fact the money was diverted to accounts” the two used for themselves. The case is going through the court system.


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The NHL and NHLPA now do a pre-season rookie symposium. Berard’s been there the last two years, telling the young players his story, advising them how to keep track of their money.

“I tell them I made some mistakes at a young age, bad decisions,” he said. “Someone became a friend, I gave him my trust. Many hockey players come from blue-collar families. My parents had six kids, my father learned to make it work on $40,000 a year. I didn’t understand how to handle” NHL income.

“The biggest issue is that you have to educate yourself. When you’re young and you’re trying to make the NHL, the problem all of us have is that you don’t want to be bothered, because you’re focusing on playing. But the cheques are coming in. You need to take the time to understand.

“Can you read a bank statement? Do you understand a balance sheet?” he continues. “Stay liquid. Make sure you can get money when you need it. If everything is tied up in real estate deals, for example, it’s harder to access your money and easier to be defrauded.”

The league and players’ association stress a diverse portfolio as part of this presentation, too.

Berard, the number one pick in the 1995 NHL Draft, has a second experience to share: that any career, no matter how promising, can be threatened out of nowhere. In 2000, a serious eye injury almost ended his playing days.

“That’s why it’s so important to have good spending habits,” he says. “Egos can be a problem. Look around the room. You see the guy next to you buying the nicest car. Well, maybe he’s making $7 million and you’re making $2 million. I want them to understand it’s important to create a nest egg.”

The fact that Johnson’s family was involved in his situation adds extra layers of pain. Would Berard tell someone never to consider a family member for this role?

“I wouldn’t say that,” he answers. “It’s not a ‘never,’ but it is more complicated. You have to trust somebody. Whether family or friends or someone in the industry, take your time and choose. You really need to pay attention. It’s tough at the end of the day, but if you follow-up on your finances, educate yourself and ask questions, that’s the best protection.”

Do the players listen?

“Yes, I think they do. I wish they would ask more questions, but a couple usually come up to me after (the formal presentation) and ask more.”

In 2013, Berard joined an investment firm, WhaleRock Point Partners. He is not allowed to solicit clients at the NHL/NHLPA event, but he does want any current, former or future players to know that, if they are in trouble, or if they have questions, he is available.

“My phone and email (bberard@wrpoint.com) are open to anyone who needs help. I want to help.”

30 THOUGHTS

1. When Alexander Ovechkin decided to leave an established agency and be represented by his parents, I worked on a story for Hockey Night In Canada about whether or not the salary cap would make this a trend. The piece was never completed, but it became very clear during the process some teams were incredibly wary of it. One of the reasons was exactly what Jack Johnson went through. Who would manage the money? There’s no guarantee, but there are many agents in hockey with good reputations for financial advice.

2. The other reason clubs didn't like it? There was no objective buffer to speak to when a player went through tough times. Kelly Hrudey said there were occasions he wasn’t playing well, his team would call his agent to see if something was up and the agent would call him to check. He liked that. Loved ones can complicate the process. Glenn Healy talked about Ovechkin’s situation earlier this season, with some controversy. Glenn delivers his messages with a little less subtlety than Kelly, though.

3. Would the Oilers part with Martin Marincin if he could bring them someone who eases their issues down the middle?

4. Obviously, Edmonton has nothing to say about that, but here’s what I suspect the team may be thinking: Mark Fayne, Andrew Ference and Nikita Nikitin are signed for at least another season. They have a lot invested in Justin Schultz. Oscar Klefbom is ready for an extended look and Darnell Nurse could be there next year. They desperately need a centre and what they’ve offered so far isn’t getting a sniff. If Marincin could bring back value, there might be a match.

5. I’m a Marincin fan. I like what he’s done in short bursts. There are execs/scouts who disagree. One who was not a fan in his draft year said last week, “He has come a lot farther than I thought.” So, we’ll see.

6. Another team dangling young defenders is Pittsburgh. The Penguins were already interested in a winger, and that increases with Pascal Dupuis’s absence. Asked a few other teams about their prospects, and the one who stood out is Derrick Pouliot. Would Pittsburgh really do that? He’s 20, first year as a pro, with 11 points in 12 AHL games. Can’t imagine it would be cheap.

7. Another exec on a second Pittsburgh prospect, Scott Harrington: “He’s different than their other young defencemen. He’s more of a solid, stay-at-home player. I could see there being interest in him. But, you wonder how important they consider him because he’s different than the other ones they have.”

8. Once asked a Penguin why Dupuis fits in so well with Sidney Crosby. He said, “Duper is not worried about what he needs. He’s worried about what Sid needs.” Think that says a lot about him. Get healthy and get back, Pascal.

9. In a league where useful defencemen are a hot commodity, surprising no one claimed Arizona’s David Schlemko on waivers. Could be a cap issue. Curious to see if Vancouver is interested after Dan Hamhuis’s Thursday night injury. Two years ago, Schlemko was asked who had the biggest influence on his hockey career. Answer: Willie Desjardins.

10. Teams that make waiver claims but don’t get them are to be kept anonymous. Would be surprised, however, if the Coyotes did not take a run at Andrej Nestrasil.

11. Arizona’s going through an in-season philosophical change, trying to breathe new energy into its roster with some of its youth. Brandon Gormley is back after a rough exhibition start. Lucas Lessio and Tobias Rieder are getting looks, too. (That’s why Nestrasil made sense.) Other managers were wondering if that meant Don Maloney was in total sell mode, but after the GM meetings, word is not yet. Apparently, he told compatriots he wants to see how this goes and doesn’t think it’s smart to have a team full of 22-year-olds out there.

12. During an intense film session the morning after their 9-2 loss to Nashville, Toronto’s coaches deconstructed everything about the team’s forecheck. The Maple Leafs are supposed to play an aggressive 1-2-2 pursuit, but it was anything but that. “They showed us gliding to the puck,” one player said. “It was bad.” “We were slow getting there,” another added. “And when (the Predators) came out at us, they didn’t like how the defence reacted, either.”

13. It was a cacophony of craziness in Canada’s largest city after ugly losses to Buffalo and Nashville, but the guess here is there will be no quick-fix moves in that organization. Everything is being done with long-term in mind. Aside from Randy Carlyle and Dave Nonis, there aren’t too many people who really know the personnel from an inside perspective. That’s critical. When it’s a gong show — which happens often in Toronto — you need to know who you can count on. Who can handle it? Who crumbles? You need time to figure out the answer when you have little first-hand experience with the individuals. You also have to wonder if Brendan Shanahan wants to give whoever he is planning to bring in next summer an opportunity to shape the franchise.

14. Does it matter if Phil Kessel talks to the media? The only time I’ve ever seen it become a problem is when teammates start to say, “Why do I have to answer for this and he doesn’t?”

15. It seems like James Neal is shooting more than ever, but the numbers don’t back up that assertion. His 82-game pace is 289 shots for this year, better than 2012-13 (279), but lower than 2011-12 (337) and last season (331). What he does say is the mentality is different. “When you’re playing with Crosby or (Evgeni) Malkin, it’s hard not to be looking for them. Now, I’m not thinking that way.”

16. He had a good line about his new centre, Mike Ribeiro, who he knows from Dallas. “We’re pretty honest with each other,” he laughed. “If he makes a bad pass, I’ll tell him. If I don’t take advantage of a good pass, he’ll tell me.”

17. When the Penguins played the Predators in October, Neal told Pittsburgh reporters he did not demand a trade. He repeated it, without prompting, last weekend. He wants this to be common knowledge.

18. Matt Cullen, 1,161 games into a real good career, admits he is thinking about the end. He’s going to wait until the season concludes, but says he will consider retirement if he drops below what he expects from himself. “I don’t want to be frustrated with who I am on the ice,” he said this week. So far, though, he feels pretty good.

19. Adam Lowry had a terrific story about lining up for a faceoff against Eric Nystrom. “He turned to me and said, ‘Are you (Dave’s) son?’” Lowry said. “I told him I was, and he said, ‘(Bleep), I’m old.’” Dave Lowry coached Nystrom in Calgary.

20. The Jets shook off a slow start to work their way back up. It was interesting to hear some of their players describe the turnaround. Captain Andrew Ladd said the team did a better job forcing opponents outside through the neutral zone. Both Zach Bogosian and Blake Wheeler used to the term “selfish” to describe early season play. As in, Winnipeg rid itself of some bad habits. What changed things? Wheeler said it was five points out of six in New Jersey, Manhattan and Chicago despite just two non-shootout goals. “That’s when we learned you didn’t have to worry only about offence to win.”

21. A week ago, Jets coach Paul Maurice removed TJ Galiardi from the lineup in order to help Michael Frolik get going. The idea was to give the pending UFA some penalty kill time, since he’s got history in that role. (Galiardi also does that job.) His minutes haven’t gone up, and he’s still not a top option when Winnipeg is down a man. Despite that, Frolik, a pretty useful player, rallied with four points in his last three games. Heard the two sides tried to get a deal done last summer, but could not get there. Something to watch.

22. Asked a couple of teams about the Jori Lehtera-Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Tarasenko line, which is on an absolute tear. Schwartz draws a lot of comparisons to Brendan Gallagher, “but more talented,” as one coach said. “Lots of energy there. Plays big.” When Lehtera came over in the summer, a few scouts who’d seen him overseas wondered about his skating. Don’t think there are too many questions now. “A perfect fit on that team,” one of them said. He’s also “a load” in the face-off dot.

23. Tarasenko, who plays on his off-wing, “Loves to gain the blueline, then stop and get the defence to back off,” one coach said. “If you don’t get back pressure on him, he will get across the middle. Then you’re in trouble, because he can make plays or shoot from the slot.” Another exec: “Every time he gets it, he’s a threat. They probably want him to shoot more. He can put it between a defender’s legs or through a screen. And when he shoots, it’s hard for a goalie to stop the puck cleanly. It is tough to control.”

24. Darren Pang had a good story about Lehtera. Ville Siren, then a St. Louis scout, wanted to take him in the seventh round of the 2007 draft. But he wanted to speak to Lehtera before making the choice, so as not to waste it if the player didn’t want to come. They couldn’t reach him and decided against the risk. One year later, the Blues took him in the third round. Siren and Jarmo Kekalainen, now in Columbus, undoubtedly love re-alignment, since their draftees can only torture them twice a year.

25. If the NHL debates three-on-three overtime at the March GM meetings, will the format be slightly different? The AHL uses a seven-minute extra period. The switch from four-on-four comes at the first whistle after three minutes of play. It’s possible the NHL stays at five minutes, meaning the switch comes at the first whistle after 2:30.

26. Video review for goaltender interference is going to be a tough one. At last week’s get-together, eight disputed situations from this season were shown. After several angles, 28 GMs voted on whether it should be a goal or not. (The two teams involved were excluded.) I don’t have the final tallies, but some of them were extremely close and none were unanimous. The league understands it cannot allow any system that creates more problems than it solves.

27. Here are three examples you can try with your friends: Ryan Reaves, Oct. 25 (voted by GMs as no-goal); Brayden Schenn, Oct. 28 (voted as a good goal); and Corey Perry, Nov. 2 (voted no-goal).

28. There were reports a couple of weeks ago that the NHL was considering the return of the glowing puck. As far as I can tell, that’s not correct. I do believe the league is considering a chip inside the puck for tracking purposes, just as it is considering tracking players. Maybe that’s the confusion.

29. There are parallels between Slava Voynov’s legal case and Adrian Peterson’s. The NFL kept Peterson on a paid suspension until his situation was settled, then added additional penalties. Voynov was charged on Thursday, but the NHL did not alter its current position — a paid suspension. Will it also wait until the judicial system runs its course?

30. During CBC’s coverage of the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, I was heading into the crowd at Montreal’s Bell Centre to interview then-Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. I was so focused on that, I walked into a hilarious exchange. Someone saw a microphone-holding reporter and asked, “Who are you going to talk to?” “The Prime Minister,” I replied. “Are you a baseball fan?” he asked. (Absolutely.) “Well, Dodgers catcher Russell Martin is here and you should interview him.” “I’d love to,” I said. “Where is he?” Of course, the guy talking to me was Russell Martin. Shouldn’t have too much trouble recognizing him the next five years.