NHL, NHLPA launch program to help players prepare for future
The NHL and NHLPA want players to plan for life after hockey long before they hang up their skates.
Now they have an avenue to do so.
The league and union on Thursday announced a new program intended to help players further their education, network and find out what jobs they may be suited for, such as finance and broadcasting. The goal of the Core Development Program is to connect with players early so the transition to life after hockey is easier.
''It's not just for players late in their careers,'' deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. ''It's going to be focused on players and really raising awareness among even the younger players that the sooner they can start focusing on the longer term, the better off they'll generally be - as much in their careers as after their careers.''
The NFL, NBA and MLB all have resources to help players transition after retirement, and the NHL Alumni has one with the Break Away program. This new endeavor is closer to the NFL and NFLPA's Player Engagement department that focuses on continued education, financial stability and career development.
Retired defenseman Mathieu Schneider, now the NHLPA's special assistant to the executive director, said player feedback as far back as 2013 helped spawn the new program. He said he believes players are generally conscious of the uncertainty of life after hockey and many wanted more assistance.
''It's really to help guys figure out first what they think they're good at, and then second to help them figure out what they really are good at and to give them the tools to be successful at whatever it may be that they're interested in,'' said Schneider, who called the diversity of the union membership the biggest challenge. ''You have a significant number of players that want to (get a college degree), you have a significant number of players that might want to start their own business, that want to be involved with finance, that want to become agents. While they're playing, they have incredible opportunities that other people might not have.''
Some players have taken their own initiative in establishing non-hockey interests during their playing days, such as Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara getting his real estate license. Longtime forward Jeff Halpern, now an assistant coach for the American Hockey League's Syracuse Crunch, considers an example such as Chara the best way to sell this program to current players.
''I think it's easy when guys are ending their careers or at the end of their career for people to become interested because they realize that their window is closing,'' said Halpern, part owner of a fried chicken and doughnut shop in the Washington area. Getting through to young players may ''be the hardest obstacle for the league and for the PA. I think most guys, they want to hear about other examples, other things that could be made available to them.''
Washington Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt is in the process of studying for his real estate exam and working with an adviser at the University of Minnesota. He said he thinks the program could help a lot of players fill their time and ease their minds.
''A lot of guys, I think, are just scared of what happens after they're done playing,'' Schmidt said. ''Even for a guy that has a college degree, I'm kind of nervous for when that day might come.''
Taking away the ''What now?'' nerves is another potential benefit of the program. In other words, a relaxed player is a better player.
''There have been studies done that show that players that are prepared for life after sports, after their careers, actually perform better during their careers,'' Schneider said. ''Maybe it alleviates the anxiety or the some of the pressure that might come normally.''
The voluntary program is independent of Break Away, but Daly didn't rule out collaboration later. More ideas can't hurt, and players are glad to know they have help coming up with future paths.
''You need to be aware of the opportunity that's there,'' Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. ''It's nice to learn and be more of a well-rounded person because hockey is just one part of your life and it lasts for a year to 20, if you're lucky, and then you got a whole lot more hopefully to live.''
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