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When former NHL player and coach Tom Johnson died in 2007, his widow received a notice from the NHL Pension Society. It wasn't a cheque. It was a bill for roughly $23,000.

Unfortunately for Doris Johnson, her husband had elected to receive his pension annually in a lump-sum payment of $63,000. Doris was told she had to refund money - the cheque had arrived just before Johnson died - because she was entitled to only a survivor's benefit of 60 per cent. It had been Johnson's choice for a 60 per cent payout instead of 100.

After refunding the Pension Society, then paying taxes and converting the balance to U.S. currency, Doris Johnson, who lives in Falmouth, Mass., was left with about $17,000.

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"I'm not going to go out and buy a new car, so I'm okay," she said. "But it was tough."

NHL widows received a boost from the Ontario Superior Court last year when it determined the NHL had been underfunding its pension plan to ex-players or their widows by $30-million. The payouts are based on several factors (including years of service, when the player began taking his pension). Some widows have been getting as little as $300 a month; one drew a lump sum of $380,000.

"I remember [then NHL president Clarence Campbell]telling us we had the best pension plan in all of sports," former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Bob Nevin said. "I was young. I believed him. It was all bull."

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About the Author
Sports writer

Allan Maki is a national news reporter and sports writer based in Calgary. He joined the Globe and Mail in 1997 with an extensive sports background having covered Stanley Cup finals, the Grey Cup, Summer and Winter Olympics, the 1980 Miracle on Ice, the 1989 Super Bowl riot and the 1989 earthquake World Series. More

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