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The Puck Stops Here

On NHL Player Deaths

Yesterday Wade Belak, a veteran of 549 hockey games who retired last March was found dead yesterday in a Toronto hotel room.  The death was reported as a suicide.  This story has become all too common in the NHL recently.  In mid-August, Rick Rypien who recently signed with the Winnipeg Jets was found dead in what was also reported as a suicide.  In May, Derek Boogaard of the New York Rangers was found dead.  He died of an accidental overdose of alcohol and oxycodone.  Tom Cavanagh, a onetime San Jose Shark was found dead of a suicide in January.  Bob Probert died last summer a few years after his NHL retirement.  These deaths may or may not all be related but we are starting to see a pattern.  Far too many current and former NHL players are dying young.

A relationship between concussions and depression has been clearly shown medically.  Hockey has a problem with concussions.  For the most part these players who are dying are fighters.  In normal situations NHL fighters have other NHL fighters punching them in the head, thus leading to concussions.

We don’t know if these deaths are the tip of the iceberg or merely a bunch of unrelated fluke events that have happened within a short period of time.  The NHL cannot afford if this is a systematic problem and we are looking at the tip of the iceberg.  It would be very bad for public relations and it would likely lead to NHL officials appearing before congress airing their dirty laundry.

As far as I am concerned, I am not willing to be entertained by people who are killing themselves to do so.  It takes away from my enjoyment.  It is one factor that has ruined my enjoyment of professional wrestling.  The NHL cannot afford to go down a similar path.

We know that the NHL has concussion problems.  Thus far the deaths have been largely limited to fighters.  The obvious kneejerk solution is to ban fighting from the NHL.  If this will save lives, I support it.

The biggest problem is that we don’t really know the scope of the problem.  I am on the side of Tom Benjamin when he says we need more information about what price players are playing to entertain us. 

The NHL already has a research and development camp in the summer.  They spent this year testing gimmicks that could lead to more goals.  That is the wrong problem that the league is trying to solve.  Player safety is far more important.  If the fact that Sidney Crosby, the best player in the NHL, suffered a concussion that has so far cost him half a season and has the rest of his career possibly in jeopardy is not enough to demonstrate this, players are dying.  There have been three deaths this summer and two more in the year before that.  That is too much.

There have been too many deaths of NHL players lately.  It isn’t entirely clear how systematic the problem may be, but there is evidence that it is a leaguewide problem.  Changes are needed to prevent further deaths.  The NHL cannot afford a relatively continuous string of players dying.  As a fan, I have no desire to watch people die to entertain me.

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Ok, Probert died of a heart attack, it was found that his brain had shown signs of CTE but it was completely unrelated to his death.

If concussions have anything to do with these players dying, has anyone checked on Eric Lindros lately? Oh, wait, he had to retire because of concussions but he DIDN’T kill himself?

Maybe its the mindset of a fighter that puts them in the situation where they take their own life. They are on teams not for their hockey skills, but because they can punch someone. Right off the bat they are told, hey, you aren’t very valuable, you will get minimal playing time, and if I tell you to knock someones block off you do it or you’re out of here. A lot of these guys had drug problems, alcohol problems, I don’t think you can say that those problems were necessarily caused by concussions.

No other sport has a role that is equatable to the “tough guy” in hockey. Maybe thats why we don’t see these deaths in other sports. What makes one want to be a tough guy? Is it a low sense of self worth? Is it a distaste for their own lives that makes them want to go out there and bash someone else’s head in? I think with a lot of these guys, there is some underlying mental instability that existed long before the concussions may have started.

Banning fighting won’t solve these problems, if anything it might put these guys out of a job and make them suicidal. The NHL has done enough to get rid of purposeless fights, there are instigator penalties, misconducts at the refs discretion, subsequent fines(see the Islanders).

Fights = Concussions = Depression = Suicide. That math just doesn’t ad up. Take out fights and you get Concussions = Depression = Suicide. When the skill players start offing themselves I might buy this logic, but that’s just not happening.

These guys aren’t dying to entertain you, these guys are dying entertaining themselves outside of hockey. Maybe a study should be done linking CTE to cocaine use? How about other illegal narcotics?

The NHL has a problem, but you don’t know what it is exactly, but they need to fix it. Players are dying, they were fighters, they might have had concussions, Sidney Crosby has a concussion, but he is not dead, nor was he a fighter, concussions are bad…

Well, after this blog post, I think we should just call off the season. It’s just too risky. Lets just disband the NHL and all of hockey…

Want to guess how many former players commit suicide then?

Posted by pstumba on 09/01/11 at 06:21 PM ET


How many fights did Mike Flanagan have in his career?  People are making a huge leap here to prove a point.  Fighting has been going on in hockey forever.  Many of these guys get very depressed when their careers end.  They are finished in their 30’s and haven’t prepared for the rest of their lives.  So now every time a player or ex player kills himself we’re going to blame the game?  John Ferguson didn’t kill himself.  Tie Dome i didn’t kill himself.  terry O’reilly didn’t kill himself.  Tiger Williams didn’t kill himself.  The Broadstreet bullies would be a mass suicide, none of them killed themselves.  So it’s silly to leap to this conclusion.  People who are depressed usually commit suicide, they come from all walks of life.

Posted by 13 user names on 09/01/11 at 11:53 PM ET


I also think their is a lot of drug abuse in the NHL.  canada has a very high, no pun intended, concentration of hydroponic pot farms.  Also cocaine and prescription drugs are a problem.  Start random testing of these guys.  Also don’t forget the booze.  Read Theo Fleury’s book.  Guy was blasted for years.  Everybody turned a blind eye.  I’m sure the League is afraid to expose the problem for fear of bad publicity.  They’d rather stick their collective heads in the sand.

Posted by 13 user names on 09/01/11 at 11:57 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

13 user names seems to assume I am arguing that everyone who dies young must have been an NHL fighter with the Mike Flanagan argument. 

Then he turns around and seems to assume that everyone who was an NHL fighter must die young was my argument.

Both show rather poor logical ability.

But lets look at the examples of fighters who are alive.  Tiger Williams was one of the toughest men in the NHL at his time.  He is listed by hockeydb at 5’11” 190 lbs.  A player that size would be considered small and would likely not fight at all.  That is the problem.  As players get bigger, the concussions get bigger and more frequent.  Derek Boogaard by comparison is 6’7” 258 lbs.

If the problem is players get to the end of their career and that is depressing and they kill themselves as he suggests (this is not the case for Rypien or Boogaard), that is a serious problem for the NHL.  If a couple NHL players kill themselves each year they have a serious public relations problem in front of them.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 09/02/11 at 12:03 AM ET

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About The Puck Stops Here

imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.

Why am I blogging? I want to.

Why are you reading it? ???

Email: y2kfhl@hotmail.com