An open letter to the National Hockey League

Dear NHL;

In case you have already missed the blatantly obvious signs that have been neatly placed on the plate in front of you – here’s another reminder that you have to change your ways. You have to change them and you have to do it immediately before any more good people get hurt – or worse, die.

For years, you have stuck your collective heads in the sand regarding hits to the head. Now the greatest player of a generation (maybe of all time) could be finished before he turns 25. You refused to take note of the obvious signs that some of the league’s players were getting completely out of control when it came to headshots. The lack of respect amongst the players was palpable – and yet you turned a blind eye to it again and again and again.

That blind eye may have cost you (and the fans) dearly with the possible loss of Sidney Crosby.

Forever.

Marc Savard will not play this season as he continues to try and return to normal.

Pat Lafontaine, Paul Kariya and Mike Richter‘s careers ended because of concussions. Both the Lindros brothers were devastated by concussions.

The problem exists. The problem is real. The problem is not going away on its own.

And yet, NOTHING has changed.

Now, three players who played the game they love as “enforcers” are dead, and it happened within months of each other. Families and friends have lost loved ones. Children have lost a parent. The NHL fraternity has lost members.

The latest, former Maple Leafs and Flames tough-guy Wade Belak died yesterday. While it’s not official while I’m writing this – the talk is that he committed suicide. If that’s true – it’s absolutely shocking to me having interviewed Wade many times over the years. He was a funny, outgoing, engaging and interesting personality. Did he have demons? Perhaps. If he did, he hid them very well.

Belak, along with New York Rangers forward Derek Boogaard and Winnipeg Jets forward Rick Rypien are all gone. All three were enforcers. All three had a “role” to play and a “job” to do. All three did it well. All three are now dead.

Is there a link between the enforcer/tough guy/fighter role they played and their deaths? There may very well be, but in all likelihood we will never know. What we do know is that repeated punches to the head and face cannot be a good thing. For anyone.

What needs to change is YOU National Hockey League. YOU need to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself if this is the legacy YOU want to leave.

FACT: Careless and premeditated headshots CAN be eliminated from the game.

FACT: Fighting (especially what it has become today) CAN be eliminated from the game.

FACT: Only you can make these changes.

FACT: The time is now.

This time next year I fear I will be able to copy and paste this blog and post it all over again. The only difference being…some of the names will have changed.

My condolences to the Belak, Boogaard and Rypien families. Let’s hope it ends here.

Have a day.

Paul