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Does the Canadiens' organization (and the NHL) have a substance abuse problem?


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With Michael McCarron entering the players assistance program, it's adding to the list of Habs and former Habs who have done so. The most public of recent was Carey Price stating publicly that he had an alcohol abuse problem for which he went to rehab. But look at the list of others who have been in the news for related issues:

- According to a leak from Mario Tremblay, Alex Galchenyuk was twice in the player assistance program for drug problems.

- Roman Hamrlik and the Kostitsyn brothers were investigated by the police for ties to multiple drug dealers, though I believe none were charged with anything.

- Jarred Tinordi was also rumored to have had a drug problem as one of the reasons why he was traded from the Habs for no return, and he was suspended for 20 games for PEDs.

- Andrei Markov was suspended by the Russian ice hockey federation for 1.5 years as a coach because he failed to produce samples for drug testing. Markov was believed to have not known he had to supply samples because he was retired (though he had not officially filed for retirement).

- Zach Kassian was in alcohol rehab before being traded here but has since admitted he had issues with both alcohol and cocaine even after that and including the night he was in the car accident, again rumored to be one of the reasons he was traded from the Habs.

- Mike Ribeiro has been in the NHL's assistance program for drugs and alcohol as well. His buddies Jose Theodore and Pierre Dagenais were also rumored to have been involved in this circle of substance abuse, though these allegations were never proven. Much of Theodore's immediate family was arrested for ties to the Hell's Angels and he himself had a positive drug test with team Canada, though he blamed it on a hair growth medication. There are rumors he was actually in rehab around the time he was traded to the Avs as part of a trade stipulation Colorado asked for because they knew about the drug problems.

Now these are the stories that have come out in the news. It's possible some of these are rumors without any truth to them. Others are proven and/or acknowledged by the players themselves, and there are still others that likely exist but haven't been brought to light in the media. I think we know in general that the NHL has a drug problem. The league itself in 2015 acknowledged rising cocaine use among players, and an investigation by The Athletic in 2019 showed that a survey of players recognized high levels of drug use, including cocaine, marijuana, and ecstasy. We know this is prevalent in the league. The question is whether this was or still is a bigger issue for the Habs than it is for other organizations, given how many players brought up in our organization over the past decade or two have since been documented as having drug issues.

 

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I think we live in a society where lots of people have drug and alcohol problems. I don't think it's WORSE for the Montreal Canadiens players but ideally I'd like it to be better the general society. The problem is despite having a career these are kids (often uneducated kids) with lots of money. There's going to be drinking and there's going to be drug use. I just look at my own life and I would have been in trouble for sometimes binge drinking in my 20s or overuse of marijuana. And that's also part of the problem, like some of these guys might just have been dealing with problematic drinking or marijuana use that in regular life wouldn't have been categorized as a 'drug problem'. I've never done it myself but I know a shocking number of people who have used cocaine! It's surprisingly casual in our society but the rules are very strict in sports that's why it can seem like a bigger issue

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13 minutes ago, habsisme said:

I think we live in a society where lots of people have drug and alcohol problems. I don't think it's WORSE for the Montreal Canadiens players but ideally I'd like it to be better the general society. The problem is despite having a career these are kids (often uneducated kids) with lots of money. There's going to be drinking and there's going to be drug use. I just look at my own life and I would have been in trouble for sometimes binge drinking in my 20s or overuse of marijuana. And that's also part of the problem, like some of these guys might just have been dealing with problematic drinking or marijuana use that in regular life wouldn't have been categorized as a 'drug problem'. I've never done it myself but I know a shocking number of people who have used cocaine! It's surprisingly casual in our society but the rules are very strict in sports that's why it can seem like a bigger issue

I tend to agree with this way of looking at it, I remember when I was younger and played sports beer was a big part of things after the games I think if you look around the NHL and sports in general you will find lots of players who will have slipped up at some point. I don't think the Hab's have anymore of an issue than any other team if anything I think being an instant millionaire as a kid has more to do with it than whatever team they are on!

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34 minutes ago, habsisme said:

I think we live in a society where lots of people have drug and alcohol problems. I don't think it's WORSE for the Montreal Canadiens players but ideally I'd like it to be better the general society. The problem is despite having a career these are kids (often uneducated kids) with lots of money. There's going to be drinking and there's going to be drug use. I just look at my own life and I would have been in trouble for sometimes binge drinking in my 20s or overuse of marijuana. And that's also part of the problem, like some of these guys might just have been dealing with problematic drinking or marijuana use that in regular life wouldn't have been categorized as a 'drug problem'. I've never done it myself but I know a shocking number of people who have used cocaine! It's surprisingly casual in our society but the rules are very strict in sports that's why it can seem like a bigger issue

I tend to concur with your comments. It’s not necessarily the organization but the environment. The NHL is a male dominated macho component of society. Do fire fighters, paramedics and police have higher degrees of alcohol and substance abuse vs conventional society norms? I believe the anecdotal evidence is absolutely yes. Higher stress levels of competition- someone younger faster  stronger coming up behind you to take your job has to be a contributing factor and not everyone copes. The stress issues with fighters is well documented but this has to carry over to a lot of fringe players and their internal / external expectations. 
the other factor is these guys lose major fluids during a game and maybe they unwind a little different than the average person. I would think Rob Ramages experience would be a sobering reminder so I don’t think this is an organizational issue if greater proportions vs the league 

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Theo Fleury was one along with Buffalo tough guy can't remember name admitted abuse. Bob Probert's book said of alcohol and cocaine abuse both. Alcohol and pot are mostly legal in most areas depending on age. The rest of the drugs I'm really surprised there isn't a mandatory random testing. A lot of industries have had testing for safety reasons in place for a long time. It has become "culture". Most armature leagues are nicknamed "beer" leagues. There are pictures of older hall of fame players drinking beers and smoking between periods in a game. Smoking has Slown some (vaping is just stupid, along with smoking). Maybe with the league getting younger it will slow some as we have players that aren't even legal age yet now more than ever. Though unfortunately stars in sports or music whatever, a lot of people look the other way. Or they have the $ and high power lawyers to get them out of it. 

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11 minutes ago, habs1952 said:

Young people with new found riches living alone in big cities......what could go wrong?

I think that this statement may have been true for decades, but,  I do believe,  that it is trending in the opposite direction.  That's not to say that it won't happen with the younger players, just not as significant.  And you have to be sure, that HUGO will be looking for good qualities in these players, as people first, and players second.

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1 hour ago, electron58 said:

I think that this statement may have been true for decades, but,  I do believe,  that it is trending in the opposite direction.  That's not to say that it won't happen with the younger players, just not as significant.  And you have to be sure, that HUGO will be looking for good qualities in these players, as people first, and players second.

Yeah and i think Hughes having been a player agent may have a better take on what is going on than some former player who really was a fringe guy at best.

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Yeah, I would be skeptical about the Montreal Canadiens having a larger problem with its players and substance abuse vs. any other sports team (NHL or other league). As someone who has been around excessive alcohol and a variety of drugs during their 20s, these types of issues affect people of all types. I would also say, it's good that some NHLers (e.g. Price) feel that they can just publicly discuss being part of the program and why. It's good to remove any stigma people might experience when an assistance program or support group is essential to them getting healthy.

I also think its unethical to discuss any unsubstantiated rumors around specific people and substance abuse. This is a health issue, IMO, and that is private unless a person wants to take about it openly (e.g. Price).

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^^ Great discussion here. I also think this problem goes beyond the Habs and probably applies to the NHL as a whole. I think the combination of young men living away from home and having lots of money and free time and stressful jobs lays the groundwork for substance abuse, particularly when you're in a city like Montreal. FWIW, most of what I listed in the initial post was stated just as a list of facts... McCarron is entering the player assistance program. Fact. Markov was suspended for failing to take a drug test. Fact. Ribeiro and Kassian have admitted to drug problems. Fact. Mario Tremblay claims Galchenyuk was in rehab twice. Fact. Whether he was or not is not clear and I never stated he actually was, but it's a fact that the rumor was pushed out there by the Montreal media and it's also a fact that the police had to visit his apartment to break up a party and fight with his girlfriend. Do what you want with that information. The Kostitsyns and Hamrlik were investigated by police for ties to criminals in drugs. Fact. We know players like Shayne Corson, Nate Beaulieu, Ryan O'Byrne, and others have had issues with the law while playing here.

Now who knows if this is more or less or the same as what goes on elsewhere. My question is whether it's a problem and whether it's affecting our organization. If we're forced to trade away young players because they can't handle living in Montreal or if we're losing out on developing guys because of off-ice problems, then maybe we need to

1. Re-evaluate how we're assessing draft picks if we had 4 straight 1st rounders (Tinordi, Beaulieu, Galchenyuk, and now McCarron) who have had either confirmed or rumored issues with drugs or the law and then Mailloux two years ago with his own personal issues even before being drafted.

2. Better prioritize the support for players as they play here to keep them out of trouble. I know the league has put in a lot of stuff on psychological, financial, and addiction counseling but obviously it hasn't been enough yet.

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I think there's definitely a conversation to have around how to better ensure young players coming into the league are provided guidance that prevents them from having to enter a substance abuse program years later.

No doubt, getting a lot of money, living away from home, being in Montreal... The potential to have problems arise is there.

It would be interesting to know if the new management team would handle it differently than the old regime.

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