NHL Morning Headlines – Friday, September 2, 2011.

More reaction to the sudden death of Wade Belak…Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien arrested for BWI…Steven Stamkos on the pressure he’ll face this season…A list of “under-the-radar” players who could have an impact this season…Voice of the Kings gets a two-year contract…Niklas Kronwall ponders his future…Joe Nieuwendyk talks about his team’s ownership situation.

CALGARY SUN: Steve MacFarlane interviewed former NHL player (now analysts) Chris Dingman, who believes it’s difficult for players like Wade Belak to seek the help they need because of the difficulty of getting over the macho mentality of refusing to admit weakness, as they fear being mocked and ridiculed.

YAHOO! SPORTS: Nicholas J. Cotsonika interviewed leading sports neurologist Jeffrey Kutcher, who calls for the NHL to become more involved in mental health, with emphasis upon education, screening, diagnosis and treatment.

TORONTO SUN/NATIONAL POST: Steve Buffery and Bruce Arthur called for league critics not to rush to judgement or conclusions over assessing blame for Belak’s untimely death, and those of Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard and former player Tom Cavanagh, who also committed suicide earlier this year, before all the facts are in.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s understandable why folks have been rushing to judgement, and link the fact those four were fighters to their deaths. People who love this game, and loved those players, are shocked, hurt and angry. They want answers, and want to determine who, or what, is at fault.  Sadly, there are no easy answers. As Buffery and Arthur point out, that doesn’t mean the league shouldn’t do anything, or that changes shouldn’t be considered, but all the facts must be considered carefully, to ensure the right changes are made. To the league and the NHLPA’s credit, they’ve had programs in place to help players, and in the wake of the deaths of Rypien and Belak, intend to review those programs to determine if improvements can be made. But they’re not clairvoyant, and can only help players in need if they come forward and seek that help.

There’s been calls to reduce or eliminate fighting, or at the very least, the role of enforcers. For years I’ve been in that camp and will continue to be so. But I also admit I’m in a minority. Fights, and enforcers, are part of the NHL, and pro hockey as a whole, because the fans want it in the game. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t see it. The fact those four made their living in the NHL with their fists may have been a contributing factor in their deaths, but we don’t know that for sure. Using their deaths to call for the elimination of fighting might bring about change, or not.  I agree with Buffery and Arthur that we must approach this carefully, ensure all the facts are in, determine for certain what led to their deaths, and how best to address the situation to prevent similar tragic events.

WINNIPEG SUN: Paul Friesen reports Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien is off to a rough start after being recently arrested and charged with boating while intoxicated, as well as the fact he weighed in at 286 lbs.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Byfuglien’s weight has garnered more attention than his BWI charge, inspiring lots of jokes and photoshop pics. The former however is more troubling, as it carries the possibility of jail time. He’ll probably receive a hefty fine and a warning the next time will result in jail time.

TAMPA TRIBUNE: Erik Erlendsson reports Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos is shrugging off pressure to play up to his new, lucrative contract, which will pay him $7.5 million per season over five years.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Stamkos is now an established star. The only thing that will hold him back is injury, and hopefully he can stay healthy.

ESPN.COM: Scott Burnside listed ten players he considers “under the radar” who could have an impact this season. On the list: Carolina’s Alexei Ponikarovsky and Anthony Stewart, Colorado’s J.S. Giguere, Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek, Anaheim’s Andrew Cogliano, Detroit’s Ian White, Pittsburgh’s James Neal, Nashville’s Niclas Bergfors, Tampa Bay’s Mathieu Garon and Washington’s Roman Hamrlik.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Did you spot the similarity among those players? If you said, they all changed teams since last February, you’re right. Of those who could make the most impact, Neal could top the list, if he plays with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: reports Bob Miller, the long-time voice of the Kings, has signed a two-year contract, which will take him up to 40 seasons.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Congratulations to Miller, and as the report noted, 40 years in broadcasting will be a remarkable achievement.

MLIVE.COM: Ansar Khan reports Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who’ll be eligible for UFA status next summer, will not only be eyeing a new contract with the club, but is considering the possibility of spending his entire career as a Red Wing.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: If Kronwall wants to remain a Wing for life, there’s a very good chance that’ll happen. He’s currently a key member of the Red Wings, and it’s a safe bet management will work hard to get him re-signed to a long-term deal that’ll keep him off the UFA market next summer.

NBC SPORTS PRO HOCKEY TALK: Matt Reitz noted Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk recently told a Calgary radio station the drawn out process of the Stars sale hasn’t affected his off-season plans.  While the club lost star center Brad Richards to free agency, Niewendyk also bolstered the club’s depth by adding veterans Sheldon Souray, Vernon Fiddler, Michael Ryder, Radek Dvorak and Adam Pardy.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: If the Stars had the kind of deep-pocketed ownership they once did, they probably wouldn’t have lost Richards to free agency, or at the very least, could’ve competitively bid to retain him. Hopefully the sale of the Stars is resolved soon, which would allow Nieuwendyk greater freedom to make moves that can help his team.

7 Comments

  1. There’s only so much the NHL/NHLPA can do about trying to prevent these deaths. If they’ve got some programs in place where players can reach out to, what else is there? Screening, diagnosis and treatment sounds nice, but in practice doesn’t seem viable. Specially when your away from the game like Belak was.

    Belak left behind two young girls because of what he did. This is frustrating, no question. To think that in your head you believe that taking your own life is greater then what you’ll leave behind, those are deep deep issues. Ones I don’t know how the NHL/NHLPA could help.

  2. Like I have said before, by eliminating some teams from the league and dispersing the players throughout the rest of the teams, this will push out the enforcer type players. There already has been a significant decline in enforcers throughout the league. Detroit doesn’t have a Darren McCarty anymore and have no need for one. There will still be fights. They just wont be set up or planned like before. Look at last year when Datsyuk fought Perry. Good clean fight between two hard working extremely good hockey players. Now thats great hockey to watch. The game will be ultimately be faster and maybe this will help eliminate the suicides and deaths of nhl tough guys. If you look outside the nhl to the general public and look at all the reasons people commit suicide you will see that it’s the same types of problems that the people are facing. It’s the pressures of life and the difficult path they live. I really hope the world can come up with better systems and programs that can convice all people that there is a lot to live for.

  3. I have done a bit of research and learned that the drugs prescribed to these players (mainly the fighters) to reduce pain and cause a euphoric feeling can lead to highly adictive dependencies that can only be satisfied with heavy narcotics. This eventually leads to adiction follwed by serious withdrawl and depression when drugs/narcotics are not taken or available. Several boxers, football players, MMA fighters and army soldiers suffer from the same effects. It is sad to realize that these drug abuses start with the doctors’ prescriptions. I am not saying this was the case with Belak (as we dont know all of the details to his death) but it definatley helps to draw some parallels with depression and sports’ tough guys.

  4. Just thinking off the top of my head here, I can think of Marc Savard, Matthew Lombardi, Eric Lindros, Francis Bouilion, Peter Mueller, just to name a few, all of whom have or had concussion issues that had nothing to do with fighting. Sure, you could reduce a few instances of head trauma by eliminating the role of the enforcer in the game, but that would result in a very small percentage of the overall head trauma instances in the league. Former Major League Baseball pitcher, Mike Flanagan, commited suicide a few weeks ago and he had no history of concussions. Let’s not jump to conclusions here, folks.

  5. It wasnt the concussions I was talking about. It was the role that these players have to play in the game, night in and night out. It’s a depressing situation, having all of these highly skilled players all around you, taking in all the spot light and attention. The enforcers are out there to protect the superstars and fight for them. I would be depressed too if I had to be in the shadows of the elite players all my life.

  6. I tried to have a discussion with my brother about these deaths the other day, and I’ve come to see some of the problems these players face by his reactions. A direct quote: “Every time I feel bad, I’d just look at my bank account, remember I’m a pro athlete and loaded, and then I’d feel happy again and beat the crap out of someone the next game.”

    Now I’m a little more sympathetic than that, even though I love me some sarcasm. But I got to thinking a lot of people might think the way my brother thinks, even if his quip happened to be in jest. Combine this with the fact that NHL players are generally seen as the toughest group of pro athletes on the planet, and that enforcers are the toughest of them all, you can see where it’d be hard to admit, to one’s self let alone someone else, that you need help. God bless the ones who have courage enough to get help for themselves, because we all know it’s one of the hardest things to do.

  7. GoWingsGo,

    If you want to eliminate the role of the enforcer in the game, you can do that by eliminating fighting from the game, not by eliminating teams from the league. There was more fighting back in the days of a 21 team league (or even less teams before that) than there is now.

    As far as the role of an enforcer being a depressive thing, that’s a very speculative assertion to make.