Ice hockey is a game of extremes. At one end of the spectrum it is the most graceful, heroic, and glorious sport where athletes truly embrace a team concept and every player is critical to a team’s success. On the other end, it is most tragic and violent sport where players endure some of the most vicious injuries including severed arteries. Every player skates a fine line where split seconds define goals and victories or losses and injury. For many ex- players, they are able to leave the game on their own terms, some turn corners and live a full, complete life while others spiral out of control.
It’s always tough for a professional athlete to adjust to life once they’re away from the game. Sometimes the answer to finding purpose is to stay in the game, via working in a front office, behind the bench or becoming a television analyst. Some guys can find solace in getting away from the game altogether. They start their own business, they spend more time with their family or they pick up a new life skill. Others simply fall apart and can’t find their purpose without playing the game. Either way, here are 10 players who saw their lives fall apart after leaving the NHL and 10 that managed to find success after hockey.
20. Fell Apart: Marek Svatoš
Some players hit the ice flying and show extreme promise like Marek, who jumped right into action with the Colorado Avalanche in the 2005 season. The young Czech looked like a true sniper after scoring 32 goals that rookie season, but injuries to his right shoulder, groin, knees, and eventual concussions sharply ended his career. He was never able to fly down the wing and let that shot go with power and accuracy, and he retired from the NHL in 2012, after being claimed by the Ottawa Senators
After retiring, he was arrested for a DUI, but sadly, that was just the beginning to a long bout with depression and painkillers. The quiet Czech was also rumored to be using drugs, and on November 5, 2016, he died of of drug “intoxication.” He was survived by his wife and two children, but also exposes how quickly a young player’s career can turn, and without finding the help he needed.
19. Thrived: Steve Yzerman
Known as “The Captain,” Yzerman had a successful career as a player and after he retired. He brought hockey back to “Motown” and captained the Red Wings to three Stanley Cups. He averaged more than a point per game, spent his entire career with the Red Wings, and his number 19 is hanging in the rafters.
After his retirement, he was the GM for team Canada who won the Gold Metal for Team Canada in 2007, he won it again in 2012, was inducted into the hall of fame, and is now the general manager for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Under his watch, the Lightning reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015. It seems like Yzerman is going to have a long career in NHL front offices.
18. Fell Apart: Mike Richards
The fiery Flyers first round pick and subsequent captain symbolized the city’s heart. He played with guts, heart, talent, and was able to torment rival players like Sidney Crosby. The center played every shift like it was his last, winning championships at every level including the Stanley Cup for the Los Angeles kings in 2012 and 2014.
However, the following year, he was was arrested at the Canadian border with a controlled substance, which led to a confrontation and battle with the team and the courts. He returned to the NHL with the Washington Capitals who though his leadership and skill would help them advance in the playoffs, but he saw limited ice time. Though his “tweets” suggest he’d still like to play, his Twitter photos with kids and signing autographs is a welcoming sight for a player who might just find a new calling outside the NHL.
17. Thrived: Kevin Weekes
I wish the likeable, athletic net-minder was able to wear number “00” like he always wanted, and maybe he’ll sport it in an old timers game. Weekes played 348 games for seven teams as mostly a back up, but he was always the ultimate team player. Perhaps the apex of his career was with the Carolina Hurricanes from 2002- 2004, as they made a run to the Stanley Cup. But after he hung up the skates in 2009, Weekes’ career really took off. He brought his love for the game and lively but honest insight to the NHL Network. He also became the first black hockey analyst for the station. His personality and knowledge shines on the show and his rapport with current athletes and analysts is down to earth and real.
16. Fell Apart: Bruce McNall
While not a player, Bruce McNall was too big a figure to ignore when looking at lives that fell apart after hockey. His career began in 1987, when he became the most important man in the Los Angeles Kings family. He increased his clout a year later when he made the biggest, most astonishing trade in NHL history and acquired Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers. As the Kings really became a hockey town, and they went to their first Stanley Cup finals in 1993, losing to the Montreal Canadiens.
That’s when the landslide started. McNall defaulted on a loan, the Kings went into bankruptcy, and he was forced to sell the Kings. Furthermore, he pleaded guilty to fraud and “bilking” banks out of more than $200 million and went to jail. He was also guilty of changing the team’s uniforms from the simple but classic gold and purple to the trendy and unoriginal black and silver.
15. Thrived: Jordan Siglet
Jordan’s dreams came true when the Boston Bruins drafted him in the later rounds of the 2001 NHL draft. However, while playing for Bowling Green University, he started feeling numb in his legs and neck, and though he tried to play through it, after all, what did he know, he was later diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. In 2004, he was the first goalie at the school to be named team captain. He had three winning seasons for the B’s AHL team, the Providence Bruins, and did see action for the Boston Bruins in the 2005 season. After he retired, Sigalet became involved with the Multiple Sclerosis chapter in Rhode Island, “Sigalet Saves For MS,” and is now the goaltending coach for the Calgary Flames. That’s big time success!
14. Fell Apart: Slava Voynov
Since winning the 2014 Stanley Cup with the Kings, Slava Voynov’s life has fallen apart and we haven’t seen him play in the NHL for over two years. And it’s all his fault. Voynov was suspended indefinitely by the NHL in October 2014 after Voynov found himself facing charges of domestic violence. After his wife said that Voynov did not intend to injure her and requested he not be charged. Voynov was eventually sentenced to 90 days in prison after pleading no-contest to a reduced misdemeanor charge.
After getting out of jail, Voynov was brought to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement where he faced possible deportation. He has since returned to Russia to play in the KHL. He tried to compete in last year’s World Cup, but the NHL enforced their indefinite suspension and ruled Voynov could not participate in the tournament.
13. Thrived: Theo Fleury
Fleury is one of the players who represents everything great about the sport both while he played and after he retired. As a player, he was tireless, passionate, and he won a cup. He was an Olympian, and packed more skill and toughness in his tiny frame than perhaps any player that ever played. He averaged more than a point per game, and is known for one of the most pure and emotional goal scoring celebrations in NHL history. He played with more heart and courage than almost any player of his era and this continued after he retired.
He ran and donated the proceeds from a hockey school in Calgary to kids, he joined a golf event to raise money for The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada, volunteers to help people overcome addiction, and wrote an autobiography, Playing With Fire, about being sexually abused. He even released a country music album, as he hopes to find a career in country music.
12. Fell Apart: Ian White
Ian White had a promising start to his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but ultimately his game went south following a trade to Calgary. After a stint in the minors, White announced his retirement following the 2014-15 season at the age of 31. Since retiring, White has had a hard time adjusting to post-hockey life. Just months later, White was charged with multiple weapons offenses. Police documents later revealed that White had become addicted to drugs and his marriage was falling apart.
He also could no longer afford to live in his house. He had grown so paranoid that he was carrying a handgun on him at all times. Since the arrest White has entered rehab. Hopefully, his life has improved since the incident.
11. Thrived: Eddie Olczyk
Eddie spent 16 years in the NHL, bookended by stints with his hometown Blackhawks. His career high in goals was 42 with the Leafs in 1988, and a year later he scored a career high 90 points. He won the Stanley Cup as a member of the New York Rangers in 1994, was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012, and participated in various Olympic tournaments for Team USA a total of 9 times. After he retired, he had an undistinguished record as head coach for the Pittsburgh Penguins and was fired after a year and a half. Just when his career in hockey seemed to skate its course, Eddie started as a broadcaster in Chicago. That led to two stints with the Olympics, the NHL on NBC, and even EA Sports.
10. Fell Apart: Dale Purinton
The role of the enforcer was one that took a negative toll on many NHL players. Just picture being a player, knowing that every night, your role is to pound someone’s face in, while taking some head shots yourself. Dale Purinton played this role, playing 181 games for the Rangers, racking up 578 penalty minutes in the process. After leaving the Rangers, Purinton spent a lot of the later stages of his career in the minors.
Since retiring Purinton has said he suffers from constant headaches, due to the 10-plus concussions he suffered during his NHL career. However things really took a negative turn in 2015 when Purinton was arrested for assault and burglary. He spent four months in a maximum security prison but has since gone through rehab.
9. Thrive: Paul Kariya
Karriya spent 14 years in the NHL, and before he ran into concussion problems, he was one of the most electrifying players in the league for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. He was a fast, slippery skater with a wicked shot who scored 50 goals once, 40 goals twice, and 30 goals four times.He was a seven time all star, won three Gold Medals, but he had to retire from concussions in 2011. So what has he done for an encore? Has he become a coach- NO. A GM or analyst? NO. No, Paul Karriya has left hockey completely and surfs 4-5 days a week. He’s with the surf, he’s one with the tide, the Beach Boys, and Paul Kariya, “Long May You Run.”
8. Fell Apart: Kevin Stevens
Kevin Stevens’ life seemed to be hitting some speed bumps before he left the NHL. In 2000, he was arrested for possession of cocaine and after a stint in rehab, he attempted to make an NHL comeback. While he recorded 726 points in 874 career games, you have to wonder if he could have had a better career without his drug problems.
After retiring, he landed a scouting job with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Everything seemed to be going fine, but last year, Stevens found himself in trouble with the law again. Stevens was arrested for drug possession, and for selling them. He was charged with attempting to distribute oxycodone. His former teammates have voiced concern for his health and mental state, and we can only hope he finds a way to turn things around.
7. Thrived: Bobby Clarke
Robert Earl Clarke, Bobby Clarke, was born in Flin Flon, Manitoba, a mining town with less than 5000 people. From there, the feisty captain was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers and his work ethic, competitiveness, and his refusal to loose made him an urban legend. The boy from Flin Flin captained the Philadelphia Flyers to two Stanley Cup Championships, Wayne Gretzky emulated his style, he had a peanut butter named after him, and he is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The kid from Flin Flon who dealt with diabetes on the ice by eating oranges and drinking soda, led the Flyers to be the only NHL team to beat the Red Army during the Super Series, and as a GM of the Flyers he brought them to the Cup finals three times. The man from Flin Flon retired because the new era of players focused more on ego, money, and power than the values he identified with. The older gentleman remains in the Flyers organization, lives in the area and probably always will, but he will always be from Flin Flon.
6. Fell Apart: Wade Belak
The massive, 12th overall pick in the 1994 draft by the Quebec Nordiques played for five teams and was known more as a tough, hard nosed game than a finesse player. He was loved by teammates and fans everywhere he went and retired in 2011. He was married and had two daughters and was hired by the Nashville Predators front office. But in August of 2011, Belak died in Toronto. His death was labelled a suicide, as he had been battling depression for years. At the time, he was also planning to work on a movie about celebrity depression. His final resting place is in Nashville, Tennessee, and his case is another example of how the NHL needs programs to help players accept retiring and dealingwith depression.
5. Thrived: Larry Robinson
When he made his debut for the Montreal Canadiens in 1972, he would change the game forever. He was massive, tough as nails, and yet could skate, shoot, and was offensively and defensively dominant. In many ways he brought the demise of the Broad Street Bullies because he hit back. He also epitomized the shut down, skilled, but nasty defenseman that was later imitated by the likes of Chris Pronger, Rob Blake, and Derian Hatcher. As a player, he won six Stanley Cups , two Norris Trophies, and the Conn Smythe.
He served as head coach of the New Jersey Devils for their cup run in 2000 and also won as an assistant with the Devils in 1995 and ’03. His name is on the cup nine times. He’s now an associate coach with the San Jose Sharks and is eyeing his 10th Stanley Cup ring.
4. Fell Apart: Derek Boogaard
“The Boogeyman” spent six years in the NHL, and as fearsome as he was as a player, he was as kind of a man off the ice. He was selected by the Minnesota Wild in the 2001 draft. Throughout his career, he was often injured and there is controversy surrounding the Wild’s team doctors prescribing drugs. It’s believed he took Vicodin, OxyCodone, and others. He died in 2011, and it was declared an accidental overdose which included alcohol. His family donated his brain to the Sports Legacy Institute at Boston University to see the consequences of high-contact sports on the brain. The NHL needs to identify players whose bodies take a massive beating, be in more control of the prescriptions doctors order, and once again depression.
3. Thrived: Mario Lemieux
Only in hockey can a man born with Le Tricolore blood end up being the Penguin that saved Pittsburgh. His on ice accomplishments include two Stanley Cups, a Gold Medal for team Canada in 2002, the Hart Trophy three times, and he led the league in scoring six times. Nicknamed Super Mario, or Le Magnifique, he overcame herniated discs, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and retired twice. As a retiree, he stayed in Pittsburgh and in 1999, he and his partners took over the bankrupt Penguins, thus making Mario the first NHL player to become an owner. He also became the first player and owner to win Stanley Cups. As an owner his Pens won the cup in 2009 and 2016. But Mario does a whole lot more for the city and is involved with “Austin’s Playroom Project,” which builds play rooms in hospitals across the country.
2. Fell Apart: Bob Probert
Bob Probert is probably best known for his years as the most dominant fighter in the NHL for the Detroit Red Wings. But he was also a talented player, earned his way onto the All Star team, and was an assistant captain. But he was always troubled, and during his career he was involved in a motorcycle accident and arrested with cocaine. However, he also supported young kids in the community and bought them tickets to games. But in February 2003, Probert re-entered rehab and during the 2003 offseason, he retired. Probert died of a heart attack in 2010 while boating with his children, father-in-law, and mother-in-law.
Following his death, Probert’s brain was donated to the Sports Legacy Institute for examination and it was discovered that Probert had suffered from CTE.
1. Thrived: Eric Lindros
Deemed “The Next One” by hockey writers, Eric Lindros of the Philadelphia Flyers, was one of the most skilled, punishing, and greatest players in his era. His one timers beat goalies before they could move, his body checks rattled stadiums and players, and teams created “the trap” just to stop him. But there was always scrutiny, innuendos, rumors, and problems between his parents and the organization. It visibly affected Eric, and after a series of concussions, his game changed, he was traded, and he retired.
What makes his retirement so successful is that he left the game entirely and has found true happiness being a husband and father. No longer are reporters and fans questioning his injuries, toughness, and hounding him for explanations. No longer is the boy wonder being scrutinized and maligned. Instead, the boy is back in the man, he seems at peace, and he skates with his kids and enjoys his life. I think he probably hasn’t ever been this happy, calm, and self secure.
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