Things are changing in the NHL.
only is the league skewing younger, faster, and more data driven. It is also
adopting a far more humane character, one that frankly has been
For years fans and media alike have joked about the
rote, robotic answers that players give during the ubiquitous between
period interview. We can all quote the usual platitudes about
giving their best, those other guys are a talented
team, and working real hard out there. While thats good
for a laugh, it hardly creates a sense of authenticy.
No matter what you think of him or the Montreal Canadiens, it
was hard not to feel a touch of empathy as it was announced Carey Price would
be entering the leagues Player Assistance Program as he seeks to deal with
mental health struggles. If that wasnt enough, the press conference by
General Manager Marc Bergevin revealed the depth of care, concern, and
affection the whole organization has for Mr. Price. Hearing Bergevin choke up
as he spoke about Prices struggles, and the way the dressing room
responded, was a glimpse behind the static façade. It was refreshing.
Needed. It was human.
While Price isnt the first person to go
through mental health struggles, something about his experience feels
different. Think back a year ago when Jonathan Drouin, also a Hab, entered the
same program as he sought help for his own mental health concerns. While not a
star of Prices caliber, it still made waves. At that time, the general
reaction was lukewarm, yet supportive.
There were a few voices who
called Drouin mentally weak, but they were in the minority. It was certainly
less than in 2018 when Robin Lehner, then of the Buffalo Sabres, left the team
and entered the NHLs Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program due to
addictions related to mental health. At that time a larger chorus labelled
Lehner a headcase, or worse. Same with Bobby Ryan in 2019. The list
Still, the fact that Lehner and Ryan reached out for
help was a big departure from how the NHL traditionally viewed mental health.
Most of us can think of players in the last 20 years that we knew
werent right and yet we brushed off that uneasy feeling or
else made jokes. Anyone who saw Ray Emery understood that something wasnt
right. Players themselves did the same thing, often with tragic consequences
such as in the case of Wade Belak. Sadly, throughout its history the NHL has
often failed players when it comes to mental health.
However, the tide
appears to have turned, judging by the league, and fan, reaction to Price's
announcement. Thats a welcome change as more and more former players are
coming forward about their own mental health challenges. For some, such as
Corey Hirsch, Clint Malarchuk, and Jordan Tootoo, they tell their stories to
educate and encourage others to seek help if they need it.
is to make sure no one suffers needlessly, and to ensure the supports are there
for players. And the message appears to be getting through. This year several
current NHL players have opened up about their own struggles and have found
support from the league and one another.
As the NHL gets ready to drop
the puck on a new season its worth taking a moment to reflect on how
different things are now then five years ago. The interviews may still be
painfully cliché, The unwritten code may be as obscure as
ever. But for the first time ever players are beginning to feel comfortable
showing their vulnerabilities. The league is starting to be a safe space to
share mental health struggles.
If nothing else, that is worth standing
up and cheering.