Johnston on NHL: Pension plan was vital in CBA talks

"The premise that the players were going to do this without this new pension -- that was not going to happen," Ron Hainsey said then. "We made that clear early on."
June 6, 2013, 8:31 PM

A player that just completed his first NHL season would probably have a tough time identifying any aspect of the four-month lockout that was good for him.

There won’t be any doubt 40 years from now.

Under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, players will earn as much as $255,000 annually after age 62 thanks to the defined benefit pension plan the NHL and NHL Players’ Association negotiated into the deal.

The details of the new plan are laid out in the recently published 517-page CBA document, which has started to be distributed to NHL teams and player agents.

NHL players had previously been on a defined contribution plan and fought hard for the change. Even though the issue didn’t receive as much attention as the split in revenues or contract term limits during the lockout, it was a top priority for the players.

In fact, Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey — a key member of the NHLPA’s negotiating committee — identified it as a big breakthrough after the sides tentatively agreed on the deal in January.

“The premise that the players were going to do this without this new pension — that was not going to happen,” Hainsey said then. “We made that clear early on.”

The new pension plan is based on the amount of NHL service a player accumulates over the course of the CBA, which is set to expire in September 2022 (assuming it is extended after eight years).

Anyone who is in the league for its entirety — either on the active roster, injured reserve list or injured non-roster — would be due to receive the estimated full value of $255,000.

It will also be lucrative for those with only partial service.

In an example set out in the CBA, a player that spends three years volleying between the NHL and American Hockey League before making the NHL full-time could still accumulate a pension worth $197,625 annually.

The benefit for each player isn’t impacted by how much he earned during his career; only the amount of time he spent in the league contributing to the plan.

The bulk of the pension fund will be financed by the league and teams, who are on the hook for at least $38 million each year until the CBA expires.

The pension issue was so complicated to work through during negotiations that lawyers continued to hammer out the language while NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr were announcing the tentative agreement at the Sofitel in Manhattan on Jan. 6.

The article outlining the pension rules ended up spanning 15 pages in the new CBA and the players were thrilled to see it included.

“That was an issue for the players that this deal would not get done without,” said Hainsey. “As far as a centrepiece thing that the players are going to be able to rally around and be proud of, I would say the pension without question.”

Now we know why.

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