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Buffalo firm managing NHL pension plan

The new pension fund for National Hockey League players that was established in the agreement that ended the lockout earlier this year is being managed by an investment consulting firm in Buffalo.

Graystone Consulting, a pension management subsidiary of Wall Street giant Morgan Stanley, was picked to manage the pension fund from its five-person downtown Buffalo office in the Key Center.

Jonathan Weatherdon, a spokesman for the NHL Players Association, confirmed Graystone’s hiring but declined to discuss it further.

Ian W. Jones, institutional consulting director at Graystone’s Buffalo office, said he could not discuss the NHL pension plan.

Jones, a native of Canada whose family moved to Buffalo more than 40 years ago, opened the Buffalo office with his brother, Peter, in April 2011.

Ian Jones, a Cornell University graduate who has worked in the institutional investment consulting business for 27 years, spent 16 years with Chicago-based Macro Consulting Group before opening Graystone’s Buffalo office. Peter Jones, also a Cornell graduate, was president of Ullico Investment Advisors, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that works exclusively with labor unions, before joining Graystone.

The new pension plan was one of the bright spots for NHL players in the collective-bargaining agreement that ended the lockout in January.

The NHL had a pension plan for its retired players up until 1986, when it switched to a defined-contribution plan. Setting up new pension plans, which pay participants a set monthly sum during their retirement years, is a rare occurrence at North American workplaces. For decades, employers have been closing down their traditional pension plans and shifting workers to defined-contribution programs, such as 401(k) plans, that put the risk of building a retirement nest egg squarely on the worker rather than the employer.

Under the NHL labor agreement, the league agreed to contribute $38 million annually to the pension fund during each of the next 10 years. Details of how the pension plan will be structured haven’t been disclosed, but for most NHL players, the benefits likely will be limited. The reason: The careers of most players are short.

About 5 percent of all retired NHL players appeared in just one game, while 30 percent play in 20 games or less, according to research by the website The median length of an NHL career – meaning that half of all players play in more games and half in less – is 86 games. Under the NHL’s old system, a player must have appeared in 160 games to qualify for the league’s full retirement package. The median NHL playing career spans just three seasons, the website found.

While pension plans are increasingly rare in the private sector, they are more common in the world of professional sports. With the latest agreement, hockey became the last of the four major U.S. professional sports leagues – baseball, basketball and football are the others – to offer traditional pensions to its athletes.