When former Capitals captain Yvon Labre was asked what his starting salary was when he began his NHL career in 1970 he let out a hearty laugh.
“Oh, about $40,000,” he said.
By the time he retired in 1981, Labre’s salary had peaked at $80,000.
“It wasn’t bad at the time,” he added, “but not as much as a lot of other players, who were up around $250,000.”
Earlier this week, the NHL Players’ Association announced it would be increasing the amount contributed to the Fund for Senior Retired Players from an annual amount of $5 million to $6 million. The NHL and its players’ association will equally divide the $6 million pension payout.
The fund is established for retired players over the age of 65, and since there are roughly 350 players in that age group, their average annual pensions will increase from $14,285 to $17,143.
The fund was created after the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
“When we were playing, the main thing that was shared with us was to keep in mind the older players,” said former Caps defenseman Rod Langway, now 56. “We’ve always included guys like Gordie Howe and the no-names, not just the superstars. I’m happy to hear they’re doing it.”
The actual pension payouts differ from player to player, depending on his time of service. Labre said that after the 2004-05 lockout, annual pension benefits increased from $900 per year of service to $1,500.
“So, if a guy played 10 years he’d get $15,000,” said Labre, who played parts of eight seasons totaling 371 games.
Labre said he began collecting his pension when he turned 60 and receives about $27,000 a year in Canadian currency.
“When I first heard [the annual amount] when I was younger, I thought, ‘Thirty thousand, that’s going to be great,’” Labre said. “But it’s been pretty well eaten up by cost of living expenses.”
After nearly 20 years of working in various capacities with the Capitals, Labre is now a consultant for Labre Capital Financial in Baltimore. He still plays hockey every Friday in Annapolis with his son and a group of older friends.
“I tell them to stay away from my knees,” he says. “The pain comes and goes. I just try to be as competitive as I can.”
Langway, who played 994 NHL games from 1978 through 1993, has not yet tapped into his pension plan, which was first made available to him when he turned 55. He said many former players are more concerned about their health coverage than their annual pensions.
Langway, who has arthritis in his knees and shoulders, said all services are covered 100 percent by the NHL’s medical plan, but it costs him $1,400 a month.
“We’ve been fighting for the American guys to get better health care and [the NHL] said it’s too much money,” Langway said. “The Canadians get free health, but the ones retiring in sunny Florida are paying for their own health insurance and that's a big hit out of their pocket books if you’re trying to live off your pensions.”