TORONTO — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman expects the league to review its substance abuse and behavioral health program after the deaths of two players over the summer.
Winnipeg Jets forward Rick Rypien and New York Rangers tough guy Derek Boogaard both spent time in the program, which is run in conjunction with the NHL Players’ Association.
“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 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.”
Rypien died Monday at his offseason home in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, where a police official said a call was answered for a “sudden and non-suspicious” death. He was 27.
Boogaard died at age 28 in May due to an accidental mix of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone.
Union executive Mathieu Schneider called the NHL-NHLPA support program “very strong.”
“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.”
In an effort to protect the privacy of those involved in the program, both the league and union are reluctant to divulge specific details about how it functions.
Schneider played more than 1,200 career NHL games and says every player is aware of the kind of services that are available. Among those are a 24-hour help line, as well as access to counselors and other medical professionals.
He was briefly a teammate of Rypien’s in Vancouver during the 2009-10 season and believes one challenge the sport faces is a general reluctance for players to discuss personal issues with their peers.
“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.”
Rypien twice took a leave of absence during his six seasons with the Canucks organization to deal with personal issues.
It’s been a difficult summer for the league.
“Both instances, while they’re different in terms of what happened and why, they’re still tragedies any time you lose young people in the prime of life,” Bettman said. “It’s just a horrible tragedy.”
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