This weekend the NHL holds its amateur draft in Philadelphia. Coaches and general managers will be looking for the fastest skaters with the best hands, of course, but also for young men who possess an uncommon maturity, who they can build a team around. One way to measure that maturity is how they approach money—after all, they’re about to come into a good deal of it.
NerdWallet spoke recently with the top three picks from the 2011 NHL draft—Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers, Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche and Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers—along with their financial adviser, Chris Legg of OFS Wealth. Two Canadians and a Swede, they have enjoyed success on the ice, combining to win two of the past three Calder trophies, awarded to the NHL’s top rookie. We spoke about how they’ve handled their first few years as a pro and how, at just 21 years old, they’ve educated themselves about money.
The owners of the first three picks this year should be so fortunate.
How was the topic of money approached as you were growing up? What did you learn from your parents?
Nugent-Hopkins: My parents tried to preserve as much as possible, and I think they taught me pretty well. They did a really good job of teaching me and my brother how to save your money and spend when needed.
Landeskog: Standard stuff—money doesn’t grow on trees—but it was funny because my mom and dad would say “we can’t buy that” or “we can’t afford that.” My mom would say, “I don’t have any more money,” and she’d show us her wallet, but we’d seen her go to the ATM before to take out money, and so we’d just point to an ATM and say, “Go over there. There’s money in the wall over there.” It’s just that innocence as kids, but our parents would explain to us that that’s not a money wall, that money doesn’t just come out of the wall when you push a button.
In the US, hockey is an expensive sport for kids—renting ice time, buying and replacing equipment. Was cost a consideration for your families when you started playing, then traveling with youth teams?
Huberdeau: Of course it’s a big thing. My parents were really careful with where they would put us. We didn’t really do camps or things in the summer. It’s pretty expensive to put your kids in summer camps, so we didn’t really do that. I only played in the season and on the local team, and I kind of played on my own time.
Landeskog: How it works in Sweden is, most of the organizations that have youth hockey, they have a men’s league team where they get most of their money from, and they can use it down the ladder. The organization I was with, our men’s league team wasn’t doing very well, and that spiraled down and all the parents on the youth teams had to pay a lot more every year and every month for their kids to play hockey, so at one point it was very expensive. We’d always have auctions, or we’d walk around the neighborhood and sell candy or flowers or whatever to raise money for the team.
Nugent-Hopkins: Any club team is going to be pretty expensive, so it definitely was a big sacrifice for both of my parents. They both worked and just tried to support me and my brother. And then there’s also the finances when it comes to the equipment—you break a stick and it’s another hundred and fifty bucks—so it definitely was a big sacrifice for them.
After you signed your first contract, did you have the urge to buy something flashy for yourself or something big for a loved one? If you did, what was it? If you didn’t, what made you resist?
Landeskog: It’s hard. I was 18 at the time, and when you sign you don’t realize that all that money is going to be in your account, and especially with a signing bonus. It’s kind of surreal that all that money is going to be in your bank account.
Nugent-Hopkins: I never went out right away and bought something with my first contract. I just kind of held on to it and put it in savings. I mean, I tried to be smart about it. I just bought my first car—so it’s been, what, three years, four years since I first got drafted and signed, so it took me a little to make that first big expense.
Legg: We were encouraging him to buy a car—we told him for three hockey seasons to buy a car, but he wouldn’t do it. It’s not often with these guys that you have to tell them to buy something.
Nugent-Hopkins: I just—I didn’t need anything, and I guess I just wasn’t brought up that way—that as soon as you get money you have to go out and spend it right away.
Landeskog: For me, I bought my first car, a Range Rover Sport, the day before my first NHL game. And then in the spring I bought a condo for my brother and I to live in [in Stockholm].
Huberdeau: I was pretty conservative with my money. I was trying not to spend too much even if I got a big signing bonus. I had a ’99 Saturn, and I just exchanged it for a 2003, so it wasn’t a big change. I was just trying to keep my money as much as possible.
Wait, so when you got drafted to the NHL in 2011, you just traded your ’99 for a 2003?
Huberdeau: Yeah, that’s what I did. Everybody would laugh at my car, but I didn’t really care. If it got me from point A to point B, then it was fine.
What lessons have you learned from working with OFS Wealth? What’s your day-to-day relationship with Chris like?
Landeskog: Early on in my career, it was a lot to take in—so many new terms and so many new things with savings, funds, stocks, bonds—the terminology, really, with me being from Sweden. It’s one thing to know everyday language and slang and talking to teammates, but when it comes to that kind of stuff, you get lost in translation a little bit. I read articles in USA Today, and there are things I don’t know squat about. But I try to learn and I try to read it just to get the terminology, and that’s the only way to learn, I guess. Still, whenever there’s something I don’t know or that I read somewhere, I just shoot Chris a call or a text and I ask him, “Hey, what does this mean?” or “Do I need to worry about this?”
Nugent-Hopkins: Yeah, a lot of emailing and a lot of text messages back and forth. Whenever something big comes up or I have a question about something, or I do want to make a purchase that’s a little bit more money than normal, then I will give Chris a call.
Has there ever been a time when it’s gone the other way—Chris calling or texting you to say, “Hey, what’s with all this spending?”
Huberdeau: I did, actually. One month last year, I spent a little bit too much and went over my budget. It wasn’t too much over, but Chris shot me an email and showed me what I spent. Sometimes you don’t really know what you spent in a month and think you’re probably fine, but he kind of reminds you what you were spending. Some months you’re going to spend more, some months you’re going to spend less. So I think it happens. But it’s only happened once last season.
As your career progresses and you move on to your next, more lucrative contracts, is there anything you’re looking out for or, conversely, looking to do?
Landeskog: Athletes have so little time—I think the average career in the NHL is, like, five years—and you make a lot of money in so little time, you have to make it last a lifetime or else you’re going to have to find a job after.
Nugent-Hopkins: I’m trying to have the same attitude about it, just preserve as much as possible. I don’t want to change things too much. I have a house, I have the car—I don’t see what else I need to be buying or spending a ton of money on. Maybe down the road things will come up, and I’ll have the confidence in my finances to spend the money, but right now I just want to keep living the same way and don’t want to be dumb about it, that’s for sure.
Huberdeau: It’s hard to say now because I’m so young, but when I’m older I’m going to probably stay in the sport. I’d like to be a coach. You also never know when you’re going to have an opportunity to invest in something. Investing in a team would be nice, whether it’s a junior team or in the NHL. That’s what we’re going to see later, and it depends on how much money you make in your career.
Landeskog: My mom is a chef, so I’m sure she’d love it if I got into the restaurant business. But I also hear people say every day, don’t get into business with your best friends or your family, so that gives me a second thought. I’m hoping that I’m far from my career being over, but you still have to start thinking about those things.
Do you talk about money with teammates? When you got started, did you look around the clubhouse for a veteran to ask questions about this stuff?
Nugent-Hopkins: A little bit. A guy like Ryan Smyth who’s played a long time—he just retired this year, after 20 years—he obviously made a lot of money over his career, but he’s been the same way forever. I played with him for only three years, but just talking to guys around the team who played with him for 10 years, they say he just kind of lives, not a simple life but he doesn’t spend wildly or anything and he makes the right investments and works with his financial guy and he was just a guy I looked up to both on the ice and off.
Landeskog: Yeah, I think it’s something that naturally comes up. I’ve certainly heard stories, and I’ve met players as well, who are kind of living from paycheck to paycheck and they’re excited for the 15th and 31st to come around. Then you talk to teammates who have millions and millions of dollars, and they’re going to be OK for generations to come, and they’re more conservative. Somewhere in between those is where I fit in.
Gabe, you’re a team captain—do you consider this to be part of how you set an example for teammates?
Landeskog: It’s not my business to tell someone what to do with their money, just as it’s also not my business to tell someone what to do in a family situation. But when private life becomes a part of what your job is, if there’s something that’s bothering a teammate so much that they can’t perform on the ice, it becomes a problem for all of us. Ultimately, we care about each other and we care about players and the people that they are. So we certainly want to look out for each other—whether I’m the captain or not, I’d be doing the same thing.
What financial lessons have you learned that you believe apply to everyone?
Landeskog: Anyone reading this article, when they’re done they should go download the documentary “Broke.” I think I watched that documentary my first year in the NHL. It’s about how [athletes] spend tens of thousands of dollars at clubs and bars, and they treat their 10 best buddies to new cars. I guess what I’m trying to say is, it’s important to know when and where and for who you are spending money. Pick your spots.
Nugent-Hopkins: It’s always fun to get the toys and stuff, but just save as much as possible. I’m only 21 right now, so it’s kind of hard sometimes, but I definitely have to think about my future self and my future family.
OK, so you all were the top three picks in the 2011 NHL draft, and got to know each other. Do you guys ever talk about this stuff, or do you pretty much stick to hockey?
Landeskog: The times we see each other, it’s right after a game or on the ice, so not too much. But if there’s ever a time where they feel like they’re going to invite me over for dinner, I think Ryan will be the one picking up the tab because he’s making the most money.