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How is the NHL taking care of players’ mental health in the secure zone?

2020 NHL Draft Lottery Photo by Bruce Bennett/NHLI via Getty Images

The closer it gets to hockey the more excited I get to watch the players hit the ice. At the same time, I grow worried about those who will be entering the secure zone fighting their inner demons.

The ones who struggle with the darkness.

The ones who self medicate with pills and alcohol.

They are the ones I worry about the most.

They will be locked away in hotel rooms left to their own devices.

Darkness and silence can consume a person who struggles to find the light.The sounds of their thoughts, inner criticisms, and self doubt can be deafening. Now, think about how hard it becomes to work through those moments of despair and doubt when you are away from your family and your therapist.

One could argue that it’s not a big deal since a player or staff member will have their team and front office to fall back on. However, playing for the NHL and working for the NHL is a job. Due to the amount of money people working in the NHL make and the level of “celebrity status” that comes along with it, many tend to glamourize what it’s like to work within the NHL. Yes, it tends to be more exciting and different than sitting at a desk or ringing up groceries all day. BUT the fact of the matter is working in the NHL is still a job. If you go to your boss with a personal issue such as mental health or addiction, the fear is that you will be looked upon as weak not sick. The fear is very real that it will be held against you at your next contract negotiation.

Hockey is a job.

Players and staff need to know there are plans set in place to privately deal with mental health and addiction issues without fear of it being held against you in the future.

There needs to be an option to talk with a therapist, a counselor, or spiritual director who is not associated with the team or the league.

Does the NHL have a plan in place in case someone hits their darkest moment and attempts to take their life? Being on the road with a roommate is one thing but being in a room by yourself on the road for months can unearth the many struggles within a person.

On the subject of addiction, is the NHL ready to deal with possible overdoses or withdrawals that happen within the secure zone? Do they have a plan in place to help a player who does harder drugs such as cocaine or heavy dose prescription pills come down from a high when they don’t have access to their dealer or supplier anymore?

We know every hotel will have a bar area in it for players to consume alcohol. Does the NHL have AA meetings in place for those who are going through or have gone through the 12 step process? Are there options to talk to a sponsor or bring a sponsor in for an emergency discussion with a player or staff member who is struggling to not drink? Could they put a plexiglass wall between them in a room to allow them to discuss their battle privately?

Phone calls and video chats don’t always help. Sometimes, let’s be honest, a lot of the time seeing a trusted person in the flesh does a world of good. Being able to feel their energy and see they are focused on you and you alone makes the discussion easier.

I don’t know if the NHL has discussed any of the things I’ve brought up here today. I don’t know if they have a plan in place to deal with the various aspects of mental health in the secure zone.

I do know this, they need to.