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NHL/NHLPA player assistance program, explained: Blue Jackets’ Patrik Laine, Avs’ Valeri Nichushkin latest to join

Hockey players are just like other human beings. Everyone goes through struggles, and athletes are no different. 

In the NHL, the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program is available to all players and their families. The program aids those who are going through mental health, substance abuse or other issues. 

In the 2023-24 season, there have been a number of players to enter into the program, looking for assistance. The latest members to be admitted were Blue Jackets winger Patrik Laine and Avalanche forward Valeri Nichushkin. 

Earlier in the campaign, Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard spent about a month from late November until right before the holidays in the NHLPA player assistance program. 

The program has been used more frequently in recent years. During the 2022-23 season, Red Wings forward Jakub Vrana stepped away from the organization and spent a few months in the program. Predators forward Michael McCarron and Panthers goaltender Spencer Knight did as well. 

Two years ago, Canadiens goalie Carey Price and Predators netminder Connor Ingram both spent time away from their organizations while in the program. During the 2019-20 season, Bobby Ryan spent nearly three months away from the Senators while getting help.

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Here is more information on the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program. 

What is the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program?

The NHL/NHLPA player assistance program was created to assist players and their families in dealing with mental health, substance abuse and other issues.

The program gives players access to a confidential phone line, and counselors are available in every league city.

There is no set time a player must spend in the program. Players continue to be paid while they step away from hockey and focus on themselves. No one can leave the program until they have been cleared by those running it.

Because privacy is a main component of the program, the behind-the-scenes operation has not been documented, and people’s reasons for entering the program are not released. Some athletes have spoken out after they left the program about why they entered. 

When was the NHL/NHLPA assistance program created?

The NHL and NHLPA started the player assistance program in 1996. The program has been used by players for over 25 years now. 

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