Deaths of Boogaard, Rypien prompt NHL to examine its support programs

The hockey world was shaken by Monday’s news of Rick Rypien’s death at age 27, which came about two months after Derek Boogaard’s untimely death at 28. Many reacted to Rypien’s death with great sadness, from teammates to fans and even former opponents. Yet there was also sizable contingent of people looking for someone beyond Rypien to blame, with several onlookers casting that gaze at the way the NHL handles players dealing with personal issues.

I believe that it is unfair to cast blame on the league and its teams, especially since the deaths of Rypien and Boogaard were both such personal and complicated matters. Sadly, that’s the way society often reacts to tragedies that are difficult to accept: by finding the easiest target to blame.

While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was quick to claim that the league’s support program ranks among the best in sports, he admitted that the league and its players association will examine its substance abuse and behavioral health program after those two sad, high-profile deaths.

“My guess is we’ll talk at the appropriate time with the players’ association, making sure that we’re comfortable with all of the mechanisms and programs we have in place, which are extensive,” Bettman told The Canadian Press at the league’s research and development camp on Wednesday. “I don’t think any sports league does more than we do but maybe there’s more, as we focus on it, that we need to focus on. I know it’s always hard for people to accept, but sports is a microcosm of society in general.

“And life isn’t always easy.”

Union executive and former NHL defenseman Mathieu Schneider echoed Bettman’s sentiments.

While referring to the NHL-NHLPA support program as “very strong,” union executive Mathieu Schneider indicated that he shares Bettman’s desire to look closely at ways it might be improved.

“I think there certainly has to be some work done in addressing issues,” said Schneider, the NHLPA’s special adviser to executive director Don Fehr. “If anything could have been done that would have helped those players, if anything can be done to help future players, we certainly need to do it.”

The Canadian Press article states that the league and NHLPA try to limit the amount of details revealed about the program to protect those who undergo treatment, but Schneider said that players are aware of the services made available. Those services include access to counselors and a 24-hour help line.

Both Boogaard and Rypien tried to get help. One of the saddest details about Boogaard’s death was that it reportedly came the day after he left treatment. Rypien took a leave of absence on two occasions – most recently in November 2010 – to try to deal with his personal issues.

To some, that might be proof that the system isn’t working, but it’s also clear that attempts were made to help both players work out their issues. Let’s not forget that the program seemed to benefit Nashville Predators forward Jordin Tootoo, although anyone familiar with these situations will acknowledge that battling personal demons is often a gradual process with ups and downs.

One thing Schneider brought up is a crucial factor for anyone dealing with depression and other issues: communication. That’s an area that Schneider believes players could work on.

“Maybe it would have been better had Rick been able to lean on some teammates and guys there for support,” said Schneider. “But those type of things have always been kind of taboo. You just don’t talk about it.”

Again, these are complicated situations that don’t always have obvious resolutions. That being said, it’s good to hear that the league and its players association will discuss ways to improve the process. It would be wrong to say that the NHL doesn’t care about helping its players, but there’s always room for improvement.

Despite poor start, Elliott ‘will find his game very soon,’ says former teammate Jake Allen

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 12:  Goalie Brian Elliott #1 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Edmonton Oilers on October 12, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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OK. So, Brian Elliott isn’t off to a good start in net for the Calgary Flames.

He has lost all three of his starts. He’s allowed 14 goals with a save percentage of only .839. Not good. Not good at all, especially considering the Flames acquired Elliott with the hopes of addressing their goaltending concerns from previous seasons.

Chad Johnson has instead started three of the last four games for Calgary.

Whether it’s Elliott or Johnson in net, the Flames have given up the most goals against in the league, while giving up 30.2 shots against per 60 minutes at five-on-five. That puts them 18th in the league at even strength.

But despite Elliott’s difficult start, a former Blues teammate of his has voiced support for the 31-year-old puck stopper, optimistically stating that a turnaround will happen.

“I wouldn’t worry one bit. That’s just my perspective,” Blues goalie Jake Allen told the Calgary Herald. “He’s one of the most competitive people I have ever met, and he will find his game very soon.

“Obviously, he wanted to get off to a good start (in Calgary), that’s first and foremost, but if it doesn’t go that way, he will rebound and find it. I’m 100 (per cent) about that. I wouldn’t be too concerned if I was a Flames fan.”

That’s reassuring. Maybe.

Elliott enjoyed five strong seasons in St. Louis, playing alongside Allen for three of those seasons. But St. Louis was — and still is — a very structured team under head coach Ken Hitchcock, which certainly bodes well for goalies.

It’s still very early in Elliott’s tenure in Calgary, which also has a new head coach in Glen Gulutzan.

The coach will have an interesting decision coming up next week, with the Flames making a quick two-game stop in the Central Division. They’ll face the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday and the Blues the following night.

Elliott didn’t get a chance to face his old team Saturday. Perhaps he’ll get that opportunity in St. Louis on Tuesday.

Video: Parise becomes third Minnesota-born NHL player to score 300 goals

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 08:  Zach Parise #11 of the Minnesota Wild celebrates his goal against the Colorado Avalanche as the Avalanche held a 3-1 lead in the second period at Pepsi Center on October 8, 2015 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Zach Parise on Sunday scored his 300th career NHL goal, a milestone that puts him in rare company.

Parise got the Wild on the board early in the second period versus the New York Islanders, becoming only the third Minnesota-born player to reach 300 career NHL goals.

As per the Wild, Parise joins Dave Christian, who scored 340 goals and 773 points in 1,009 career games, and defenseman Phil Housley, who scored 338 goals and 1,232 points in 1,495 games.

Parise added goal No. 301 of his career later in the second period.

Spoiler alert: Oilers shut out Jets to win the Heritage Classic

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Darnell Nurse #25 of the Edmonton Oilers beats Connor Hellebuyck #37 of the Winnipeg Jets during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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There was no miracle comeback this time for the Winnipeg Jets. No heroics from highly touted rookie Patrik Laine.

Puck drop at the 2016 Heritage Classic at Investors Group Field was delayed due to glare from the sun. When the game did begin, the Jets couldn’t get anything going, falling behind in the second period against the visiting Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers leave Winnipeg with a 3-0 victory.

It started with Mark Letestu opening the scoring with a short-handed goal after a mistake from Dustin Byfuglien at the Edmonton blue line.

The Oilers continued to ruin the party with a goal from Darnell Nurse — in the box when Letestu scored — just 1:46 later. And Zack Kassian made it that much more difficult for the Jets to come back with another second-period goal for Edmonton. Three goals in just about eight minutes and it was game over.

The Jets’ record falls to 2-3 — a slow start that puts them at the bottom of a very difficult Central Division.

And their schedule likely won’t do them any favors, either, with home-and-home sets against Dallas and Washington, not to mention some back-to-back games on the road.

Meanwhile, the Oilers have had a completely different start to their season.

A week ago, head coach Todd McLellan blistered his team for a brutal performance on home ice against the Buffalo Sabres. Goalie Cam Talbot wasn’t good at all, allowing a goal from center ice.

A distant memory, it seems. Talbot stopped all 31 shots he faced for the shut out Sunday.

The message from that effort versus Buffalo — the lone blemish on Edmonton’s schedule so far — seems to have been received from the Oilers.

They went on to beat Carolina and St. Louis, and then they took control of Sunday’s contest in the middle period and didn’t give Winnipeg anything from there.

Wait, what? Letestu’s short-handed goal opens the scoring in Heritage Classic

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 03: Mark Letestu #55 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 3, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Oilers shutout the Flyers 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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With a power play in the second period, the Winnipeg Jets had a good opportunity to take the lead on home ice in the Heritage Classic.

But instead, it was the Edmonton Oilers cashing in.

Mark Letestu opened the scoring with a short-handed goal, beating Connor Hellebuyck on the glove side on a breakaway after Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien whiffed on the puck at the blue line.

Letestu took advntage. That’s his second goal of the season, both coming on the penalty kill.

The Oilers were able to further silence the crowd in Winnipeg, as Darnell Nurse, right out of the penalty box, buried a Connor McDavid pass just 1:46 after Letestu’s goal.