Rangers forward Derek Boogard (above), found dead in his Minnesota apartment yesterday.
Boogard came to the team as a big ticket replacement for Jody Shelley, a tough as nails fighter, who had done the tough job of being an enforcer for the team, and was one that other players feared. So when Boogard joined the team early last summer, all 6’8″ of him, with his imposing reputation preceding him, a young man who tough guys were reluctant to fight with because of his quick hands and menacing size, many Ranger fans were just fine with the transaction, as in hockey, unfortunately, teams need someone scary to keep their high end talent safe.
Frankly, there’s a lot wrong with the game, and so is this. We have been debating internally our stance on fighting in the game since we read a whole bunch about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, related mostly to ex-football players, but also to Bob Probert, a legendary NHL tough guy. We know the league is also looking hard at fighting as well, with arguably its best player, Sidney Crosby, wrung up soundly with a concussion from which he has not recovered. Will the golden boy whom the NHL has swung just about all of its marketing impetus behind ever be the same?
There is some question. Derek Boogard was the type of player a team would acquire to keep players like Crosby unencumbered. It’s thankless work. And some, in hockey circles, can’t understand how a guy that gets 3 or 4 minutes of ice a game and who isn’t counted on for his playing skills, can occupy a seat on the bench, taking away opportunity from a more talented player, and can earn so much in the process. The Rangers paid Derek Boogard in excess of one million dollars a year.
It’s a blood sport. As much as we have always been fans of seeing our guy kick the hell out of the other guy, the concept of the enforcer has become barbaric to us, and always should have been. We’re surprised more haven’t perished, and we are seriously concerned that there is no really effective way to protect top end talent, which is a dark notion for the league that gets worse ratings than NASCAR.
But Sidney Crosby isn’t on the sidelines because of a fight or what an enforcer could or couldn’t do. There’s no way to keep players safe. They are bigger and faster than ever, stronger than ever, and the collisions and impacts, in our humble opinion, are leaving imprints that are the same as the ones being suffered by guys like Dave Duerson, who recently shot himself in the chest with a shotgun, and left his brain to science.
Jeff Klein of the New York Times offers a much better obituary on Boogard than we ever could. Here’s part of it:
In poll after poll of N.H.L. players it was always a landslide: Derek Boogaard was the toughest, most feared fighter in the league.
Signed to a four-year contract averaging $1.6 million a year, Boogaard played just 22 games for the Rangers.
So fearsome was the hulking Boogaard that last summer the Rangers signed him to a four-year contract at an average of $1.6 million per year —far higher than most enforcers command.
His most significant hockey statistic was 6-foot-7, 265-pound. Playing a handful of shifts a game, he scored only three goals in 277 career games over six seasons, but amassed 589 penalty minutes including 70 fights. In one stretch of almost five years, he went 234 consecutive games without scoring, the longest drought in league history. In drills at the Rangers’ training camp last year, he trailed behind the other players, winded, as he had done at camps with his previous team, the Minnesota Wild.
Boogaard, 28, was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment by members of his family on Friday, and within hours his fellow players — including those he sometimes fought — were sending messages of condolence through the social media.
Sgt. Bill Palmer, a spokesman for the Minneapolis police, said Boogaard was dead when emergency medical technicians arrived. He said the police do not suspect foul play because Boogaard’s body showed no sign of physical trauma.
Palmer said the police would not comment about a possible cause of death until the medical examiner’s office completed toxicology tests after an autopsy performed Saturday. A final report is expected to be released in about two weeks, he said.
Boogaard was remembered fondly by former teammates in Minnesota and New York and by former fighting opponents.
Boogard had a fight with Ottawa’s Matt Carkner in early December, suffered a concussion, and was yet to return. You can see video of that fight below.
As for us, we don’t have a lot to say about the man because his stay was so short here. We liked his acquisition, and his attitude, but he only played in a handful of games. On not scoring in over 200 games consecutively, we remember how Boogard enthusiastically proclaimed in an interview before the season opener, that he planned on getting off the snide that night. We were happy to see him get that first goal in so long a few games later.
We’d hate to conjecture about the dead, but we would not be surprised if Boogard suffered from CTE. Whether or not that’s the case, we are calling for the league to do whatever’s necessary to make the game safer.