Never before has the sport of hockey seen such a summer.
Some aspects of it were just like any other summer in the NHL. Free agents became rich, some players were overpaid, some were underpaid. Some players retired with huge fanfare, some retired with little or none. Some are still not signed to contracts. Some are unwanted. Some chose to continue their careers in other leagues scattered around the world.
Hockey is a worldwide sport and players looking to extend careers or revitalize them have many professional leagues around the world to choose from if playing in the NHL is no longer an option.
The one league that has stepped up and really tried to offer players competitive salaries is the 18-team Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League, otherwise known as the KHL.
European and Russian players are not only looking at the KHL as a backup plan to the NHL, but as a league where they can stay close to home and play the sport they love.
When former NHL All-Star Pavol Demitra decided to leave the NHL and continue his career in the KHL, I am sure he knew he would be giving up some of the luxuries of playing in the NHL.
I highly doubt that in his mind he thought he would be tragically killed in a horrific plane crash while heading to his first game in his new league with his new team, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. The crash claimed the lives of everyone on board with the exception of one crew member and one player, Alexander Galimov, who survived but are in critical condition.
To gauge the tragedy in terms we as hockey fans can understand, for one moment close your eyes and think about how you would feel if (God forbid) your favorite hockey team suffered such a horrific fate.
The feelings go beyond just hockey. This is life and death.
As if the plane crash that claimed the lives of so many was not enough, earlier this summer the NHL lost three other players in three separate incidents.
New York Ranger and former Minnesota Wild fan favorite Derek Boogaard passed away to an apparent lethal mix of alcohol and pain killers.
Vancouver Canucks forward Rick Rypien, who battled depression for years, claimed his own life in an apparent suicide.
Nashville Predators defenseman Wade Belak was also a victim of depression, and though authorities have not announced his cause of death, suicide is feared to be the means.
These four separate events, put together, mark the darkest summer in NHL history and something that will haunt the sport of hockey, its players, personnel and fans for many years to come.
Think of lone Lokomotiv surviving player Alexander Galimov, if he does survive (and that is a big if). What kind of life will he have knowing that all of his teammates did not make it, and he did? One hopes that he will be spared and can live a long, healthy life.
Let's also not forget about the surviving crew member who will also battle the same issues, if he survives.
Soon the puck will drop on the 2011-12 NHL season, and let's hope that the NHL pays tribute to those lost no matter the circumstances and reminds everyone of the importance of air safety.
The NHL should also have psychiatric care available for players who need it. It is time for professional sports leagues to try and help players where they can. If it saves one life, then it is worth it.
KHL officials have already said that Lokomotiv will play this season by having the other 17 teams donate players and promoting players from its "youth team" to fill out the roster.
Let us hope that Russian aviation takes this as a calling card to improve their bad safety record so that this tragedy does not happen again to anyone.
Air safety should be 100 percent. Hopefully they get a wake up call as a result of this that will prevent future senseless deaths.
Prayers go out to the two survivors of the Lokomotive crash, and the families of all who were touched by the tragedies of the darkest summer in the sport of hockey.
To see video of the ceremony in place of what was supposed to be the opening game of the KHL season, please click here.