It's hard to imagine just how much more difficult a problem like addiction can be for hockey players and professional athletes in general. The pressure of always having to perform at the highest of level while being under the spotlight of millions can become daunting. What makes it even worse is the time spent away from family and friends can always exacerbate any type of adversity someone is going through. Add to that an income that really only 1% of the population could ever even imagine receiving on a regular basis (to help afford drugs and alcohol) and you have a recipe for disaster if an athlete doesn't get the proper help sooner rather than later.
Specifically for hockey, the sheer physicality of the game can make a player more susceptible to mental health illnesses like addiction. The intimidation factor of a high speed contact sport like hockey, the pain from the brutality of the sport itself, as well as the fact that bare knuckle fighting is still allowed in the game can all influence a downward spiral for a player. Like we've seen so many times already, the pain and coping mechanisms from hockey go hand in hand with addiction and can quickly take its toll on a player.
The NHL and NHLPA have luckily come a long way with its substance abuse program and more success stories have come out in recent years. More importantly, current and former players who have beat their addictions are becoming more vocal as the stigma against talking about problems is slowly lifted for hockey players. Not every player is as lucky, as there are still countless cases of a player ruining their career due to substance abuse.
15 Overcame It: Michael Ferland
Ferland, 25, finally got his opportunity to shine this past season when he was put on a line with Flames' stars Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. The big bodied yet skilled forward had a far from simple path to success though. He had been drinking since he was only 15 all the way until his sobriety at 22 years old. Regardless of his drinking problem, he was still a force in juniors where a season of 96 points in 69 games with Brandon was sandwiched between two point per game seasons. Ultimately, then head coach of the Flames Bob Hartley, teammate Brian McGrattan, and president of hockey operations Brian Burke helped check Ferland in and he's been on the rise with the team ever since.
14 Career Ruined: Ryan Malone
Malone was everything you could've wanted in a power forward: in his prime, he was a gritty and imposing at 6'4", 220 pounds. He was also capable of consistently scoring 20+ goals while producing 45+ points per season. He had several good seasons with both Pittsburgh (where he made it to the cup final and had 16 points in 20 playoff games) and Tampa. However, after 8 good seasons and as his game had been trailing off for a few years, Malone's career was cut short by substance abuse. In 2014 he was arrested for a DUI and cocaine possession. This didn't deter the Rangers from signing him, even though he played only 6 games the season that followed his arrest before being sent to the AHL.
13 Overcame It: Devin Setoguchi
It's hard to forget just how good Setoguchi was on a line with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton for the Sharks in 2008-09. In his first full season and just second year in the NHL, Setoguchi scored 31 goals and had 65 points as the trio went on to have a highly productive year. It seemed like a flash in the pan for Setoguchi though, who never got back to the 80 game mark in a season and was far from that year's point production as well. After stints with Minnesota, Winnipeg, and Calgary, Setoguchi was a UFA and unable to find a team to sign with. It was at that point that reports came out that he attended rehab for his alcohol addiction. Setoguchi then went to Switzerland with HC Davos to revitalize his career, and was offered a contract by Los Angeles after one year in the NLA.
12 Career Ruined: Jarret Stoll
Stoll had several good seasons with Edmonton and Los Angeles. He's a two time cup winner with Kings and was consistently dominant at the faceoff circle. However, in 2015 and after 13 years in the league, Stoll was a UFA looking for a team to sign him. He didn't help his cause of finding a new job though since he was arrested in Las Vegas for possession of cocaine and ecstasy. The Rangers eventually signed him, but he was put on waivers after 29 games. He was claimed by Minnesota where he was just as ineffective. The following offseason he was unable to get anything more than a professional try-out with Columbus and he has since been working as a scout for Los Angeles.
11 Overcame It: Zack Kassian
The highly touted forward was drafted 13th overall by Buffalo in 2009. His offensive capabilities never seemed to develop, and after 7 points in 27 games in 2011 with Buffalo he was traded to Vancouver. With Vancouver he still didn't produce much, but was a physical force on the then great Vancouver team. In 2015, only a few months after being traded again (this time to Montreal) he was involved in an accident which saw him break his nose and injure his foot. It was determined he was under the influence and was admitted to the NHL's substance abuse program. He was then put on waivers by Montreal after completing the program.
Luckily for Kassian, Edmonton gave him a second chance and he didn't disappoint. This past season was one of his most productive in his career and earned him a three year extension with the Oilers.
10 Career Ruined: Mike Richards
A player known for both his character and his great talent, Richards was a key member of the Flyers for years. Though he only ever got to the finals with Philly and lost, he went on to win two cups with Los Angeles after a blockbuster trade landed him there. The season after he won his second cup however, Richards was demoted and had to play his way back to the NHL. Things got worse that Summer when he was arrested for possession of oxycodone without a prescription. The Kings attempted to terminate Richards' contract while it had 5 years (out of 12 years) remaining, but the NHLPA intervened and Los Angeles had to instead reach a settlement. He signed with Washington in 2016 but ultimately did nothing, with only 5 points in 39 games. From Stanley Cup to out of a job in under two years.
9 Overcame It: Grant Fuhr
A very small percentage of professional athletes get to say they played for a dynasty. I'm more than sure an even smaller amount will attest to winning championships while being addicted to cocaine. Fuhr was a great backstop for the Oilers' dynasty, helping the team win 5 cups spanning from 1984 to 1990. The following season after the cup win in 1990 however, he was suspended 59 games for substance abuse. His career didn't stop after the suspension though, as he went on to play until the 1999-00 season with 5 other NHL teams. The playoff performances that made him crucial to the Oilers were even replicated in the three years he spent with St. Louis. He played admirably during the playoffs from 1996 to 1999.
8 Career Ruined: Theo Fleury
It's hard to argue against Theo Fleury being one of the best forwards in NHL history. At only 5'6" and 180 lbs, and being drafted in the 8th round, Fleury beat all the odds en route to a 1084 game career that saw him post 1088 points. His most successful seasons where when he was with Calgary and the Rangers. He was a Stanley Cup champion in his rookie year with Calgary and has won gold for Canada in almost all the international tournaments. His amazing career was cut short by drug and alcohol addiction. After being sexually abused during his junior hockey days, Fleury turned to substance abuse to deal with the trauma.
After being suspended by the NHL in 2003 for substance abuse and having to play overseas, he had an unsuccessful attempt at returning to the NHL in 2009. He then retired and has since become a mental health advocate for hockey players.
7 Overcame It: Rich Clune
Clune could have been just another forgotten grinder in an era that saw enforcers still ruling the league. But by no means was Clune ever going to be a household name by his production, or talent at the NHL level, let alone his fighting. The fact that he didn't let substance abuse ruin his pro hockey career though is what is most important about Clune. Another enforcer that hated that he had to fight and was traumatized by the concept of hazing in his junior days, he turned to alcohol and drugs to ease the pain and pressure. At now 30 years old, he was bounced around between Dallas, Los Angeles, Nashville and Toronto during his NHL career before ultimately accepting and enjoying his role as an AHL regular. His story of addiction also came at a time where other enforcers dealing with addiction weren't as fortunate as Clune.
6 Career Ruined: Pelle Lindbergh
With a team that has struggled mightily for years to find an established number one goalie, taking a look back 30 years shows what could have easily become the best in Flyers history. At only 26 years old, Lindbergh had established himself as one of the better young goalies in the league for the Flyers. He had just come off an amazing 1984-85 season that saw him become the first European goalie to win the Vezina trophy. He had 40 wins in 65 games with a 3.02 GAA and .899 SV%.
Nothing more was ever to be for Lindbergh, since in November of 1986, Lindbergh crashed his car into a wall while having a blood alcohol level over double the legal limit. Lindbergh remains one of the greatest what ifs in hockey history.
5 Overcame It: Ken Daneyko
A case of loyalty to one franchise may have helped Daneyko overcome his addiction. Daneyko had been in the league for 13 years before finally getting the proper help. Having only played with the Devils throughout his career, the terrifying defenseman had a great cast of supporters who helped him rehab from substance abuse. Devils then general manager Lou Lamoriello and team owner John McMullen offered their support and were there when he checked into a rehab clinic to help him through his addiction. The career Devil was an enforcer who had 2,516 PIMs with only 178 points in 1283 NHL games.
He battled through alcohol abuse before entering rehab in 1997 to bring an end to years of binge drinking. He successfully sobered up and continued to play until 2002-03. He won two of his three Stanley Cups after having checked in for rehab.
4 Career Ruined: Mike Ribeiro
Ribeiro has battled through substance abuse throughout most of his career and it looks it may have finally cost him his NHL job. Having played on 5 teams in his 18 year career, the scrawny yet more than effective playmaking Ribeiro had good seasons more often than not. He was traded away from Montreal in his prime due to his alleged ridiculous partying ways. Out of the famous red light district of Montreal and into the desert of Dallas, he grew as a hockey player and had his most productive seasons yet.
Even into his 30s and after being bought out by Arizona, Ribeiro remained an effective player and was a good center for Nashville. His substance abuse was a constant for him though and it's finally halted his career this past season, where his bad play saw him get demoted to the AHL. It remains to be seen if he can make a comeback next season.
3 Overcame It: Brent Sopel
Sopel enjoyed a long career that spanned 12 years and saw him play with several teams. His greatest success were the seasons he played with Vancouver and Chicago, where in Chicago he won a Stanley Cup in 2010 and was great at his shutdown role. It's recently come out that he also struggled with alcoholism most of his career. He was troubled by a learning disability due to his (undiagnosed at the time) dyslexia and dysgraphia, which fueled his desire to binge drink as a coping mechanism. From a prominent offensive defenseman transitioned into a more stay at home style, he played through his substance abuse. Now retired after playing continuing his career in the KHL and the AHL, he's gone through rehab and is now sober.
2 Career Ruined: Derek Boogaard
Boogaard was the first victim and the beginning of a domino effect where other enforcers in the NHL's suffering was brought to light, Boogaard's death sent ripples through the NHL. Never wanting to fight, but having to in order to remain in the NHL due to his massive size and strength but lack of any real talent, Boogaard's years of fighting quickly caught up to him. Between the pain from fighting and the stress of having to do it in order to maintain a livelihood with the NHL, enforcers like Boogaard turned to painkillers and other substances to numb life. After consuming a deadly cocktail of Percocet painkillers and alcohol, Boogaard overdosed and died in his sleep in 2011 at 28 years old.
Enforcers like Wade Belak and Rick Rypien suffered addiction, pain, and depression, possibly from fighting which may have led to their mental health problems.
1 Overcame It: Scott Darling
Darling came a long way in order to become a permanent NHL player. By the time he was 25 he had played in 8 different leagues (6 since being drafted in 2007). Not only was the constant grind of trying to make it the NHL weighing Darling down, so was his substance abuse. From his time with the University of Maine, his drinking began a downward spiral before eventually getting kicked off the team because of it. The following year, he gave up alcohol and began his climb back to being a professional hockey player. He became a very good backup goalie to Corey Crawford in Chicago, capable of playing well when called upon and helping them win a cup in 2015 (he played great in the 5 games he had to replace Crawford).
After three successful years as a backup for Chicago, he is now looking to be one of the leaders on a Carolina team poised to make it back into the playoffs.
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