Wade Belak

What the NHL and NHLPA should learn from a year filled with tragic death

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There’s no way to be able to wrap your head around what’s happened off the ice in the hockey world this year.

Since the start of 2011 we’ve seen four tragic deaths. Sharks minor leaguer Tom Cavanaugh, Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard, former Canucks tough guy Rick Rypien, and now recently retired scrapper Wade Belak. Of those four, three of them are believed to be suicides (Rypien’s cause of death is still yet unknown while Belak’s is suspected to be a suicide) and Boogaard’s came thanks to a toxic mix of painkillers and alcohol all stemming from being upset with missing time thanks to post-concussion syndrome.

We’re not here to hypothesize on what caused these young men to reach that dark place where killing their body with toxins or taking their own life seemed like the right answer to the situation they were in. Doing that is a folly. Trying to figure out if the life of an NHL tough guy or a concussion victim leads to being consumed by the saddest of sad thoughts is too much for people not in the know to speculate on. While you could draw conclusions with a guy like Rypien, using the same methodology for a guy like Belak doesn’t make sense. We just don’t know what made these guys tick and that’s part of the frustration in dealing with their untimely deaths.

What needs to be looked at is how the NHL and the NHLPA are trying to take care of their troubled souls. Former NHL tough guys Tyson Nash and Matthew Barnaby took to Twitter to point the finger at the NHLPA for not helping players prepare for their post-career lives. In Belak’s case, this makes some sense although Belak wasn’t lacking in opportunity post-hockey. Belak was set to be a rinkside reporter for Predators broadcasts and was also set to compete on CBC’s Battle of the Blades celebrity figure skating competition.

The fact here remains that pro hockey players are guys that have been playing since childhood and have known a professional schedule lifestyle that consisted of virtually nothing but hockey. When it comes time to retire or if you’re forced out of the game by injury, it’s a colossal culture change for players which sometimes leaves guys feeling lost.

It’s the sort of situation that makes you think of the character Brooks from the film “The Shawshank Redemption.” After so many years on the inside of prison, when he was set free he became a lost soul unable to adapt to a new way of life on the outside. That’s not to say that the hockey lifestyle is like a prison, just that when everything you’ve ever known is thrown into disarray, if you’re not ready for it you can be left feeling swamped over.

Whether it comes from preparing players for their post-career lives, helping them with substance abuse, or getting them help when it feels like there’s no way out of the darkness that’s enveloping their lives being proactive to let the players know there’s help when they need it is the absolute least they can do and it has to start early.

The NFL and NBA hold rookie symposiums for incoming players to help them better prepare for the perils of being a professional athlete. Having the NHLPA and NHL work together to let players know that there is a program in place to help (the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse & Behavioral Health Program) can get the word out early and let it be known that help is there if needed. Whether the problems stem from abusing alcohol or pain killers, the assistance is there.

With depression is one of the most personal and most private mental illnesses, teaching players early on what the signs of it are and that reaching out for help when it’s needed. That’s not nearly enough to help those who are depressed, but doing something is better than doing nothing. Depression is such a difficult thing because even with proper counseling and a great circle of friends, it still might not be enough to save someone from their thoughts. Ignoring it, however, is not an option.

With  so much sadness and so many questions left unanswered for those players and their families, the time is now for the NHL and NHLPA to work together and make sure that sadness and avoidable tragedy will not happen in the future. One death is one too many, four is a sign of a much larger problem that must be addressed.

Report: Wheat Kings’ McCrimmon likely to be named Las Vegas assistant GM

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The Las Vegas NHL franchise has been in search of an assistant general manager, and that search may be nearing an end.

According to a report from Guy Flaming of The Pipeline Show on TSN 1260, Brandon Wheat Kings owner, GM and coach Kelly McCrimmon is likely to be named assistant GM in Las Vegas.

The report was backed up on Friday from Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.

Last summer, McCrimmon turned down a job with the Toronto Maple Leafs front office.

It was reported last week that Vegas general manager George McPhee had asked the Washington Capitals for permission to speak with that team’s assistant GM Ross Mahoney.

Canucks’ Rodin says he’s ‘not 100 percent but getting close’ after freak knee injury

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Anton Rodin will be among a lengthy list of right wingers looking to compete for a roster spot with the Vancouver Canucks for next season.

Originally selected by the Canucks in 2009, and after having gone back to play professionally in Sweden, where he began to light it up offensively, Rodin signed with Vancouver for one year, and one way at $950,000. He’s listed as a right winger, but has a left shot and could perhaps help the Canucks find some scoring, which was a major problem for them during a dreadful 2015-16 campaign.

General manager Jim Benning, in speaking with The Province newspaper, has already compared Rodin’s style to that of Canucks’ forward Sven Baertschi.

However, he’s still working back from a knee injury that interrupted his 2015-16 season, in which he had 37 points in 33 games for Brynas.

From Sportsnet:

Over the past couple of seasons Rodin found a new level in the SHL and was particularly dominant this season. Wearing a captain’s “C” on his sweater, Rodin was leading the league in scoring by a wide margin before sustaining a gruesome knee ligament tear during a mid-January practice.

That injury sidelined Rodin for the balance of Brynas’ season, but it wasn’t enough to stop him from winning the Guldhjälmen – quite literally “the gold helmet” – which is an MVP award voted on by SHL players, similar to the NHL’s Ted Lindsay Award.

As per News 1130 Sports in Vancouver on Friday, the 25-year-old Rodin will arrive in town next week to have his knee checked out.

Avalanche, Tyson Barrie have arbitration hearing, could still reach a deal before ruling

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 08:  Tyson Barrie #4 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the Minnesota Wild at Pepsi Center on October 8, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Wild defeated the Avalanche 5-4.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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So far, scheduled arbitration hearings around the NHL have been avoided — until Friday.

The Colorado Avalanche and defenseman Tyson Barrie went ahead with the player-elected arbitration hearing on Friday, however, the two sides can still reach a new deal before a decision from arbitrator Elizabeth Neumeier must be provided within 48 hours of the hearing.

Here is what was separating the two sides heading into the hearing, as per Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet:

Last season, the 25-year-old Barrie, who brings an offensive style to Colorado’s blue line, tied his single-season career high in goals with 13. He also had 49 points, which is four shy of his single-season career high from 2014-15.

He also just wrapped up his two-year deal, which came with an average annual value of $2.6 million.

Given his numbers and the position he plays, Barrie is in for a substantial raise. Exactly what dollar figure that comes to has yet to be determined.

From the Denver Post:

The arbitration hearing could get bruising, with the Barrie camp citing his offensive numbers and arguing that as a terrific skater and puckhandler, he is among the top offensive defensemen in the league; but with the Avalanche countering that as an undersized defenseman, he has deficiencies in the Colorado end.

The Avalanche have the option of walking away from the arbitrator’s ruling, but that could make Barrie, a right-shot blue liner, an unrestricted free agent.

Barrie has also been the subject of trade speculation, but Avalanche GM Joe Sakic has already said the Avs are not trading Barrie.

“I’d like to do a long-term deal with Tyson. If that doesn’t work out, it’s expected he’ll go to arbitration,” Sakic told the Denver Post last month. “Either way, he’ll be here.”

Related: Barrie’s agent says no lingering issues with Avs from O’Reilly situation

NHL to arbitrate co-owner’s case against Predators

NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 11:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettmann attends Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals between the Nashville Predators and the Detroit Red Wings during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bridgestone Arena on April 11, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) A judge has ruled against a co-owner of the Nashville Predators in his bid to keep his lawsuit against the franchise in a Tennessee court and allowed the case to go back to the NHL for arbitration.

According to online court records, Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle issued her ruling Friday after hearing arguments July 20. But her ruling dismissing David Freeman’s request for a stay of arbitration had not been posted as of Friday afternoon. At least parts of the order likely will be sealed or redacted.

The Tennessean first reported the ruling.

The former Predators chairman and Commodore Trust sued Predators Holdings LLC and current team chairman Tom Cigarran on June 23 seeking $250 million in damages for his original 48 percent stake in the team being diluted.

Related: Predators’ messy legal battle may go to arbitration with NHL