Another ripple of tragic shock ran through the NHL when Wade Belak was found dead in his hotel/condo complex yesterday afternoon. Officials have said that “foul play is not suspected” but it leaves many scratching their heads and wondering what exactly is going wrong in the NHL.
Belak’s death is the third to hit the league since spring; the most recent before him being Rick Rypien just weeks ago and Derek Boogaard before him, who died after accidentally mixing alcohol and prescription drugs in May. All three men played or had played the role of enforcer, their team’s tough guys, before passing away. And it’s this fact that has Gary Bettman and Craig Button, former GM of the Calgary Flames, asking questions about league policies and what they can do to better protect their players.
After Rypien’s death, Bettman had issued a statement saying that the NHL would be reviewing their programs regarding substance abuse and behavioral health. Button says that the league also needs to look into the role of the enforcer, and what it does to the guys playing it. Blows to the head that cause concussions are an obvious area of concern; but it’s also the emotional aspect of playing that role that needs to be further investigated. Both need to be taken into consideration when looking at enforcer’s, and the damage it’s doing to them.
Wade Belak retired from the league in March after playing for the Nashville Predators, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Calgary Flames, to name just a few teams that had Belak as part of its lineup. He leaves behind his wife, Jennifer, and his children, Andie and Alex.