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.