Boston Bruins

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Nick Boynton had as hard-hitting a career as any NHL player during his time. And for the former Boston Bruins defenseman, all the hitting and fighting has taken a serious toll.

Boynton, who played 299 of his 605 career games with the Bruins, became the latest ex-athlete to open up on his struggles that have stemmed from repeated head trauma in a candid new article for The Players Tribune. The full story is a must-read, but an attempt at a summary is below.

His story, which he published on Wednesday, unflinchingly details his issues with concussions, substance abuse, and mental health that began even before his career ended.

The lede sets the stage for Boynton’s story, as harrowing a struggle as you’ll read about with ex-athletes: “I’ve thought about death a lot over the past few years.” Mentions of death and dying are sprinkled throughout the piece, which also refers to the untimely passing of fellow former NHL enforcers like Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak, Steve Montador, and Rick Rypien.

Boynton speaks frankly about his NHL career, which he built as a tough guy who would hit and fight as much as anyone on the ice. He describes his role as something he often feared and hated as he dreaded games, but also something he just kept doing for the sake of his job and his family.

Unfortunately, his rugged style of play led to 8-10 documented concussions, and what he estimates to be 20-30 total head injuries that he mostly played through. It led to abuse of painkillers, which he obtained both from team trainers and off the street. He also admits he did just about every drug imaginable, short of heroin.

BOSTON - APRIL 9, 2004: Nick Boynton of the Boston Bruins checks Saku Koivu of the Montreal Canadiens in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

BOSTON – APRIL 9, 2004: Nick Boynton of the Boston Bruins checks Saku Koivu of the Montreal Canadiens in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

In his post-hockey life, Boynton says he got clean – but still battled extreme depression and anxiety. He even admits he’d give up his Stanley Cup ring, which he won in 2010 with the Chicago Blackhawks, in exchange for an earlier retirement and better mental health.

Conceding to the inherent physicality ingrained into the culture of professional hockey, Boynton acknowledges the need for some level of “violence” in the game and also the inevitability of concussions. But at the same time, he makes a still-much-needed call for action from the NHL to do a better job addressing the “ramifications” of head trauma that remain rampant among former players.

Despite the many dark, arresting details threaded throughout Boynton’s story, it ends with a message of hope. He’s spent time working on his mental health with another ex-enforcer, Daniel Carcillo, who is dealing with similar issues stemming from head trauma. He’s experimenting with innovative programs at the Plasticity Brain Center in Orlando, Fla. that have helped.

Boynton is only the latest example of why the NHL has significantly curbed fighting in recent years, and all but eliminated the role of enforcer. But concussions will never be completely unavoidable, and until Gary Bettman and the league offices start to take the connections between their league and head trauma more seriously, cases like Boynton’s have a chance to continue cropping up in the future.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.