NHL Morning Headlines – September 1, 2011.

Reaction to the sudden death of former NHL enforce Wade Belak, and Boston Bruins center Marc Savard’s career may be over.

TORONTO STAR/DENVER POST/MONTREAL GAZETTE:  are calling for the NHL to do more to look into why three enforcers – Wade Belak, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard – died over a four month span, suggesting their roles may have contributed to their deaths.

SPORTSNET.CA: calls for the league and NHLPA to do more in helping players make a smooth transition to the civilian world once their playing careers are over.

TORONTO SUN: Steve Simmons called Belak a good man we thought we knew, noting his good nature and the apparent ease in which he was transitioning into his post-playing career.

NATIONAL POST: Bruce Arthur also noted we may never know what led to Belak’s death, noting if he was a troubled enforcer, he hid it well. Arthur also pointed out the high proportion of enforcers dying compared to more talented players.

SPORTSNET.CA/OTTAWA SUN: Michael Grange and Chris Stevenson acknowledged the tragedies of the deaths of Belak, Rypien and Boogaard, but suggested there were no easy answers,that one shouldn’t be too quick to link their deaths to their professions, and noted the league and PA have systems in place to help troubled players.

POSTMEDIA NEWS:  Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal reported Oilers Minnesota Wild enforcer and Edmonton native Matt Kassian acknowledged the risk of concussion injury which comes with his role, but said it won’t prevent him from dropping the gloves when needed. (Spector’s note: Hat tip to reader “Adam” for the correction).

VANCOUVER PROVINCE: Tony Gallagher reported Todd Fedoruk acknowledged his recent battle with drugs and alcohol which brought his NHL career to a halt, said he’s now been clean for 18 months, is in great shape, and hopes to land a job with the Canucks as an enforcer this season.

TSN.CA/CALGARY SUN/SUN-SENTINEL.COM/THE TENNESSEAN: reported the shocked reactions around the league from Belak’s former teams and teammates to the news of his sudden death on Wednesday.

SPECTOR’S NOTE:First, my sympathies to Belak’s family and friends. His death, an apparent suicide, is certainly tragic.

I’ve been advocating for years now that the NHL should abolish fighting, or at the very least, eliminate the need for players whose only claim to fame is their pugilistic skills. That being said, we must be careful not to rush to judgement in linking the deaths of Belak, Rypien and Boogaard.

Belak, by all accounts, was a happy-go-lucky man with a good family life, who was well-liked around the league and appeared to have little trouble transitioning into his post-playing career. Rypien battled depression for over a decade, and twice sought – and received – help from the Vancouver Canucks and the league in seeking treatment. His condition was apparently not linked to his role as a fighter. Boogaard’s death was ruled an accidental overdose, a result of mixing strong painkillers with alcohol. As Grange and Stevenson pointed out, there are no easy answers.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the NHL shouldn’t do more to help their players, and to its credit, the league has programs in place, and in the aftermath of Rypien’s death, announced it would examine those programs to determine if more can be done.The player must also take it upon themselves to seek help. Boogaard and Rypien did. Belak didn’t, but he gave no indication he was suffering from depression. This situation isn’t as simple as black and white to resolve. The only certainty is their passings were tragic. If there is more the league and the PA can do to help players during and following their careers, then of course they should implement such programs. 

But sometimes, folks, all the best programs and treatments in the world can’t help. That’s not to say the league and the PA shouldn’t do the best they can to help, but the tragic thing about life is that people still die for tragic reasons, and sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can’t prevent those kind of deaths. Sadly, it’s a part of life. 

BOSTON GLOBE/BOSTON HERALD: reports Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said center Marc Savard, who missed most of last season to concussion, is not expected to play this coming season, and it’s feared his playing career may be over.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Savard’s condition was nearly drowned out in the wake of the news of Belak’s death yesterday, but it is no less important. While trying to determine what caused a seemingly happy man like Belak to apparently commit suicide is difficult, determining the cause of Savard’s injuries, and doing something about the type of hits which led to career-threatening or -ending injuries, is far more straightforward.

Savard wouldn’t be in this situation if not for a blatant, ugly blindside headshot by Penguins forward Matt Cooke in a late-season game in 2009-10. The league has dragged its feet for years addressing the issue of concussions and head shots, and only over the past couple of years has it lurched, with a perceived reluctance, toward doing so. Savard’s career may be over, because of a cheap shot. The player who did it will continue his career.  Here’s hoping the NHL will finally get it right in eliminating this type of behaviour, and hopefully, ridding the game of players who engage in tactics designed to deliberate injure opponents.



  1. You won’t get any support from me Spector in the less fighting camp. However I do appreciate your break down of the recent situation and the loss of the other two players this summer. I believe you were dead on with each players situation and what contributed to their deaths. I also think the NHL and PA should continue to help players with the transition, but that life also is full of tragedy and there are times you can’t and won’t be able to help someone. I believe we’ve seen this three times this year. Belak is a mystery to me because I understood his life as you laid it out. He was always seen as a nice guy who was great with fans and loved his family. Not the most obvious place for depression or for suicidal desires to come from. Clearly there was a problem and a hidden one at that. Hard to say anyone could have seen it coming since I am guessing his family did not. As much as I or anyone else won’t like to admit, I just don’t think there was much that could have been done here. Anyway thanks for laying that out.

  2. When Eddie Shore ended Ace Bailey’s hockey career with a cheap shot the entire hockey world was shocked. The same goes for incidents involving Richard, Maki, et al. In today’s NHL the cheap shot is a common occurance and the perpetrators are paid millions. Everytime the NHL allows goons and the Cooke’s and Avery’s to lace up it opens the flood gates for the game to stoop that much lower.
    I have always enjoyed a playoff game where in the heat of action two players square off, yet find it silly where one team’s goon takes a cheap shot, forcing the other team to send out it’s goon for a staged fight. Perhaps, Mr. Cox is right, there is no place for fighting in hockey. Especially now that we now the consequences paid by the combatants.

  3. Another sad loss for the NHL community in Wade Belak. While he didn’t impress us with his skill, he was always agreat guy, gave good interviews, was liked by his teammates and fans, and had an engaging personality.

    We are not sure, yet, that this was a suicide but it appears that way.

    Depression is a very troubling ilness and I am sure that it exeists among several professional athletes, not just NHL enforcers.

    Maybe the best thing to do is to start a program designed to help players deal with these depression and anxiety issues. I would even like to see Theo Fleury be involved since he fully understands the negative impact depression can have on your family and personal life. This is an issue that goes beyond hockey. The NHL can set a model example for the other professional leagues world wide.

  4. Matt Kassian is not an Oilers enforcer, or an Oiler at all. He’s from Edmonton but is property of the Minnesota Wild.

  5. I am deeply saddened by the deaths of these players. Nobody deserves that kind of ending. That being said, I think that there are other factors than fighting that are contributing to these incidents. In my opinion, Bruce Arthur has pointed out a very plausible reason for these deaths. These players were fourth line players or sixth or seventh defensemen. Their entire careers depended on continuing to contribute in the fashion that helped them make it into the league, which is fighting. They most probably did not have the talent to rely upon other skills to continue in the league. When these players were hurt, it seems likely that these players turn to pain killers or other ways to dull the pain so they can continue to contribute. It is unfortunate. I believe that the league is too big for the talent pool of players. If the league were smaller, say half as big, then the players on the roster would need to be more talented and that would eliminate fringe players. I believe that the problem is not fighting, it is the instigator rule. With the instigator rule, players are more reluctant to fight because it puts them out of the game for 18 minutes or more. This leaves room for more cheap shots. Let’s be honest, violence is a part of hockey. Tempers flare and players go overboard. I believe that the purpose of fighting is to curb these cheap shots. If the cheap shot artists are fearful of a beating, then they think twice before making the cheap shot, but since there is the instigator rule, the fighters are more reluctant to fight. The league is also partly responsible for these problems. They are inconsistent with their suspensions and penalties. One hit gets a serious penalty, the same hit by a different players gets nothing. I believe the removal of fighting in the NHL will only lead to more cheap shots which will lead to more suspensions and eventually a ban on all contact in hockey. We will end up with women’s hockey, BORING.

    As for Marc Savard. While I agree that Matt Cookes hit was cheap, take a good look at some of the footage of Marc Savard play. He always leans forward when he skates, sticking out his neck and head, I don’t know how others learned to play hockey, but leaning forward is not the way to play. You should be crouching when you skate not leaning, that way your head is in line with your body rducing the risk of a head shot. I satill believe a lot of hits are head shots, but the vast majority are not intentional and some of the blame should be placed on the player that is hit. Take Nathan Horton. He was hit hard, but not specifically in the head. He was hit dead on and the following fall and his head bouncing off the ice was what gave him the concussion. Also he was skating in one direction and did not even look where he was going. As an NHL player, he should be aware of where all players are on the ice. His vision should not be locked in one place as he was. An unfortunate injury but partly the fault of the player and the suspension that followed was extreme. A similar hit earlier in the playoffs resulting in no suspension.

    Anyways, that’s my 2 cents.

  6. This summer has been tragic in the NHL and now with Savards bad news I am concerned for him. I remember an ESPN article from last summer that because of his injury Savard was having a hard time dealing with everything ie, not playing the game, post concussion syndrome, and not being able to enjoy his kids like a father should. That is all with one hit. In the same article I believe Savard himself stated he was battling depression due to all the above. I am not saying what happened to these guys is what will happen to Savard but I sure hope someone in Boston and or at the NHL offices are there for this guy as much as possible.

  7. Coof, if Savard has bad skating habits then you’re absolutely right. When Matt Cooke ended his career, he had it coming. While we’re at it, let’s just decriminalize assault altogether. Who’s with me

  8. Big loss not having Savy back in the nhl. He was such a talented player. If you watch the olympics or world championships you will see all skilled players that play the game hard with lots of hitting and fast pace. This is the type of hockey we should be aiming for in the NHL. My suggestion would be to eliminate a few teams in each conference and this will help get rid of the goons throughout the league over time. There is not enough skilled players to fill all the teams now but if you get rid of some teams it will make the league more competitive and skilled. In the end NHL games will be way better to watch just like the olympics. Get rid of the teams that are lossing money anyways.

  9. Chaas,

    Maybe you should read what I wrote before you make a stupid comment. I condemn the hit Cooke made but I still believe that some of the blame should be placed on the person hit if they were not playing the game properly.

    If you were driving your car and somebody were to step onto the street right in front of you and you hit them and they die, do you go to jail for murder. If a driver runs a red light and you hit them and they die, do you go to jail as well. Its people like you who are going to ruin what is a beautiful game. If you are going to comment, back it up with intelligent arguments.

  10. There is an ominous cloud over pro hockey these days and the sad news from the summer might just be a precursor of the game’s future. I honestly believe that players have grown beyond any safe limits – the rinks are too small, the hits are too hard, the enforcers take too much punishment – and the risks that professional hockey players take to their health and possibly their lives during a career have reached a tipping point. I would like to see injury statistics published in full on an ongoing and comparative basis so that players, league officials and especially fans have a clear understanding of what’s happening now. This game is the best in the world and we need to safeguard its future.

  11. Tragic is an understatement in Belak’s case. I think that looking for reasons is a little hard in this instance. Maybe he wasn’t depressed at all. Could have been a case of had too much to drink, wasn’t clear headed, got some really bad news and made a stupid drunken decision. You can’t over examine it. Might as well go bang our heads against a brick wall. The deaths of three hockey enforcers have to be coincidence. Unless some crazy anti-hockey fighting group of individuals is conspiring to kill Enforcers and make it look like suicide or mis-adventure related death. Men have been getting they’re bells rung on a regular basis in sports for as long as they have been played. Individuals in sport have dealt with circumstances far more stressfull than just being a run of the mill hockey enforcer. Jackie Robinson, Theo Fleury, Muhammed Ali and many others. Stop using this tragedy to examine a circumstance beyond the comprehension of the people involved and stop using for an agenda!

  12. Coof- The player being hit did not choose to be hit. Just because they aren’t skating the proper way, have their head down etc, does not mean that they are at fault at all. The choice to hit is made by the player who lays the check alone. If you were skating with your head down and I crushed you, did you cause the hit or did I? The first driving example doesn’t fit because: skating with your head down does not equal stepping into the path of an oncoming vehicle. While neither one is smart, the only one that would have a sufficient assumption of risk would be stepping into traffic.

    But I guess you are kind of right, the players who have gotten hit did step onto the ice after all….

  13. This summer has been devastating for the league. Two current enforcers and one retired pass away; two from apparent suicides and the other from a drug/drinking combination. This is… ridiculous.

    I mean, those boys protect others on the ice. But who exactly protects them? There are questions to be answered. And soon. There has to be accountability from both the NHL and the NHLPA. Pro players taking their own lives and abusing substances…. Never would imagine this from the NHL.

  14. filti

    You made some interesting points. But I did want to say this. You mentioned “If you were skating with your head down and I crushed you, did you cause the hit or did I?” I would say it depends. If you had just touched the puck or were skating with the puck, then you drew the hit. If you were simply skating and I came over and smoked you completely by random, then i would say I forced the hit. I don’t know if the car analogy works here because as we all know, you touch the puck and your fair game, including up to 5 seconds after you touch/release it. I watched the hit in question and while I can’t recall the amount of elapsed time since Savard touched the puck, I believe it was within the couple of seconds allowed, making him fair game – no different than when Lindros would streak over the blue line with the puck looking right at the ice. Its simply poor skating as mentioned above and goes against everything taught in minor hockey. That said, I also believe that Cooke could have given him a pass here by coming up and giving him a shove or avoiding him at the last minute all-together. Maybe his mind was somewhere else, or maybe he expected Savard to see him or completely turn into him (This isn’t the case here, but I know that in minor hockey turtling is common), I don’t know. But the point here is that Savard has his face down while and for a couple of seconds after he has the puck, all in the middle of the ice which is dangerous – ask any bantam or peewee player. It was a stupid move, and a costly one, but one that he should share some blame in for making himself a victim.

  15. Even in little league hockey, you are taught to KEEP YOUR HEAD UP!!! You can not skate around with the puck looking down in a pro league and expect not to get stopped, jus`ask Eric Lindros!!! Otherwise, as previously mentioned above, you`ll end up with a NO-TOUCH SHINNEY game! + You can`t group all the recent deaths as all the same, because they`re not! We have to look at them separately!