It's been over a year since the NHL, in a span of four months, lost three different players to suicide.
Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak—all considered "enforcers" in the NHL—lost their battles with personal demons and raised concern around the NHL that the position they played may be taking too great a toll on a hockey player's body and mind.
Over the weekend, John Branch of the New York Times published a story looking into former Ranger and Wild forward Derek Boogaard's final days leading up to his May 12, 2011 death from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs and alcohol.
Here are some of the disturbing findings:
"In a six-month stretch from October 2008 to April 2009, while playing 51 games, Boogaard received at least 25 prescriptions for the painkillers hydrocodone or oxycodone, a total of 622 pills, from 10 doctors—eight team doctors of the Wild, an oral surgeon in Minneapolis and a doctor for another N.H.L. team.
In the fall of 2010, an official for the Rangers, Boogaard’s new team, was notified of Boogaard’s recurring abuse of narcotic pain pills. Nonetheless, a Rangers team dentist soon wrote the first of five prescriptions for hydrocodone for Boogaard after he sustained an injury.
Another Rangers doctor, although aware that Boogaard also had been addicted to sleeping pills in the past, wrote nearly 10 prescriptions for Ambien during Boogaard’s lone season with the team."
Not only was Boogaard battling a severe drug addiction to fill the void of his terrible injuries, team doctors were acting as enablers, filling out prescriptions to the troubled winger seemingly on demand.
Should the NHL rid themselves of enforcers?
In light of the deaths mentioned, the NHL needs to rid themselves of the so called enforcer position.
Since returning from the lockout back in 2004, hockey has evolved into more a skating, talent-oriented game—leaving no room for players whose sole talent is to fight. It's an outdated position that, after these deaths revealed, plays a heavy part in the demons the players live through every day.
Is it really worth a player's life to keep enforcers around?
It's not to say that fighting needs to be outlawed in the game—just implementing hired guns to protect players has no place anymore. It's been a staple ever since the sport's inception and purists point to fighting as something that separates itself from other professional sports. Players can still be responsible to police themselves, as long as they can play in other facets of the game.
Derek Boogaard isn't the first player to suffer through extreme physical and mental issues from a career of fighting.
Sadly, he won't be the last.
Rick Rypien was suffering through depression for a long period of time—taking a leave of absence from the Vancouver Canucks for family reasons—before taking his life on August 15, 2011.
Wade Belak had just retired after 14-year career in the NHL and, if you asked his teammates, seemed content with his life before police officials found him dead in his hotel room on September 1, 2011.
The NHL has been proactive in attempting to rid its game of head shots by changing rules to prevent further injuries and creating a stricter protocol for dealing with concussions, requiring players to experience a battery of tests before coming back to game action.
Its next step should be better player treatment and a complete overhaul of its substance abuse prevention and care programs. No one should suffer the way the aforementioned hockey players did and any others before them. Their behavior and subsequent deaths suggested they felt alone, helpless and with no escape from their ailments.
Placing measures to prevent those feelings could go a long way in saving a life.