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. Just this year, the Penguins won the Cup without their best defenseman (Kris Letang), with their back up goalie (Marc Andre Fleury) playing over 75% of the time, and a group of young wingers.
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 their 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, spend more time with their family or learn a new life skill. Others simply fall apart and can’t find their way without playing the game. The tragic stories hurts the fans, league, players, and occurs in every sport. The NHL isn't immune to this tragedy, and hopefully these guys can find the desire and courage they played with on the ice to rebound off the ice.
15 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. The Kings terminated his contract, but he will be receiving settlement payments until the 2031-32 season 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.
14 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.
13 Slava Voyonov
Voynov hasn't technically retired, but he was forced out of the NHL and it's unlikely he'll ever play there again.
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.
12 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, and really wasn't very good at it. He played 181 games for the Rangers and racked 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.
11 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.
10 Darren McCarty
McCarty was a fan favorite and rock star for the Detroit Red Wings. He was drafted in the second round in 1992, and was a" skilled enforcer," a player who could score, check, be defensively reliable, and fight. He was an outgoing personality who the Joe Louis fans adored. He won three Stanley Cups and scored a hat trick in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on the way to a third Cup in 2002. had his contract bought out in 2005 because he spent too much time with his band “Grinder,” but returned to the club and won another Cup in 2008.
After he retired, McCarty struggled with alcohol abuse and bankruptcy. Recently, the tough guys is working on pulling himself back from some very dark places and is sober. He also wrote about many of his problems in his 2013 book, “My Last Fight: The True Story of a Hockey Rock Star.” He's also become an advocate for the legalization of marijuana.
9 Patrick Cote
Patrick Cote was the 37th overall pick in 1995 by the Stars and was never able to have a steady, productive career in the NHL. He retired in 2008, and though his life started to spin out of control as a player, his life began to unravel after he retired. With the Predators in 2002, he was also arrested in New York for possession of 30 pounds of marijuana. In 2014, he was arrested and sentenced to 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to robbing two banks outside of Montreal. Once released, Cote continued his bank robbing career in February of 2016. He attempted his heist in Brossard, Quebec, after which he was again incarcerated.
The 41-year-old is now serving a 42-month sentence at Donnacona Penitentiary, and while fighting with another inmate he was shot by a security guard. He will recover, but he's got to find away to turn his life in a positive direction.
8 Chris Nilan
Nilan played 13-years and scored 225 points and 2,248 penalty minutes. A feared player on the ice, he was nicknamed "Knuckles" and often defended his teammates while also being a good checker and leader. He had over 30 surgeries throughout his career, and after he retired he found himself addicted to pain killers. His situation worsened, and he turned to robbery, alcohol, and heroin. It wasn't until he blacked out that he hit rock bottom and sought treatment.
He was able to pick himself up, get clean and sober, and has started to rebuild his life. He is the star of “The Last Gladiators,’’ a poignant documentary by Alex Gibney that focuses on fighters in the game. He also does sports talk radio in Montreal, travels from school to school to promote “No More Bullies,’’ where he speaks out against bullying, drug, and alcohol abuse.
7 Mike Danton
6 Tom McCarthy
One of McCarthy's biggest claims to fame was he was drafted ahead of Wayne Gretzky in the 1977 OMJHL draft. In the 1979 NHL draft, the Minnesota North Stars took him 10th and he became an All- Star by 1983. He finished his career with 178 goals and 399 points. However, the early years of his retirement weren't positive, as he became involved with drugs. McCarthy was arrested for trafficking marijuana in 1994 and sentenced to five years and 10 months.
He was released in 1998, and like Danton, began to change his life. He coached junior hockey and then became a head coach of numerous successful minor league teams. In May 2015, McCarthy became part owner and coach of the NOJHL's Espanola Express and is currently the head coach. He's another hockey man in this list who turned his life around.
5 Rudy Poeschek
It's never positive when a 50-year-old man is already considering donating his brain to science when he dies. But that's the case with Poeschek, who played 364 games in the NHL and estimates he had about 90 fights. After he retired, he got into a lot of legal trouble with alcohol. Poeschek was arrested eight times in three years while living in Florida in the early 2000s. Later, he's pleaded guilty to assault and driving while prohibited, and his license was suspended again and was sentenced to 45 days and a $1,500 fine. One of the most serious charges included driving recklessly with his daughter in the car. Poeschek believes he suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), stemming from 18 concussions in 90 NHL fights. He's experienced all of the symptoms and is currently involved in the lawsuit against the league. It's becoming far too alarming, and let's hope Rudy can find the help and support he needs.
4 Mike McBain
Let's keep this as simple as possible because it's nauseating. McBain was the 30th overall pick by Tampa Bay in 1995 but played in the NHL in only 64 games. He also spent time in the IHL, AHL, and across the Atlantic. McBain retired in 2008 and his legal issues shocked the NHL. McBain was charged with nine counts of sexual assault of a minor in 2012. He sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl between 2008 and 2012 while impersonating an on-and-off teammate. McBain fled and tried to commit suicide. He turned himself in, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to four to 15 years. He could have received a life sentence, and was ordered to register for lifetime supervision as a sex offender.
3 Ian White
White was drafted by Toronto in 2002 and played for 5 teams and 503 games in the National Hockey League. There signs of trouble early in his career when he was arrested and charged for impaired driving in 2005 and 2006, and again for driving with a suspended license. He last played with the Red Wings in 2013, and since then he's ran into emotional, legal, and financial problems. In 2014-15, a case of road rage, a man and woman claimed White threatened them and mentioned having guns. He was later arrested and along with weapons, a powerful pain killer was found in his car.
Simultaneously, an informant told police White was having financial and marital problems. Police executed search warrants and seized a small arsenal of guns, some not registered to White. He was charged with seven criminal offences and released on bail. This case is still open and is a chilling example of the pain athletes experience before, during, and after their career.
2 Rob Ramage
Ramage had a very successful NHL career as a leader and solid defenseman. He scored 139 goals, 564 points, and 2,224 penalty minutes in 1,044 games. He was drafted first overall by the Colorado Rockies in 1979 and also played for Blues, Flames, North Stars, Lightning, Canadiens, Flyers, and was a captain for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 2003, Ramage was driving to a former players' alumni meeting with Keith Magnuson when he swerved into the oncoming lane and collided with another car. Magnuson was killed, the other driver injured, and Ramage was charged with impaired and dangerous driving causing death. In 2007, Ramage, pleaded not guilty but was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to four years in jail.
Since his release, Ramage has returned to hockey and found some stability. In 2011 he was hired as an assistant coach of the London Knights and in 2014 he was appointed the player development coach for the Canadiens.
1 Clint Malarchuk
Clint Malarchuk was a goalie who experienced every players worst nightmare while playing for the Sabres, in Buffalo, on March 22, 1989, against the St. Louis Blues. Steve Tuttle of the Blues and Uwe Krupp of the Sabres went hard into the goal and Tuttle's skate severed Malarchuk's neck. He bled profusely in the most horrific and grotesque accident in hockey history. Though he physically returned to the ice in less than two weeks, his childhood demons, OCD, and alcoholism quickly took over his life. After seeing a similar incident in Florida in 2008, Malarchuk began suffering from PTSD. He retired and worked for Calgary as a goaltending coach until 2014 when he entered the NHL's substance abuse program. His life was spiraling out of control and on October 7, 2008, he tried to commit suicide with a rifle. He did terrible damage and entered rehab to face his nightmares.
Malarchuk has rose above his horrible childhood and accident and wrote an autobiography called "The Crazy Game" which was made into a documentary. Today, he and his wife, Joan, publicly speak in Canada and the U.S about obsessive-compulsive disorder, supporting alcoholics in recovery, suicide prevention, and psychological trauma. Now this is a hockey player!