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"Cocaine, Alcohol, and Economic Problems in the NHL": A report by Expressen

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A look into how widespead substance abuse has been in the world’s top hockey league.

Valerie Everett (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In an in-depth article by Magnus Nyström of the Swedish daily newspaper Expressen, five players from the NHL, past and present, spoke about the use of cocaine and alcohol in NHL, and what it means further down the line for players. The sources have requested anonymity in order to speak about these subjects. The following are the highlights from the Swedish-language feature.


It was the Stanley Cup playoffs and everyone was playing their best hockey of the season. But something was wrong. Two players shocked their closest acquaintances.

“These players became crazy. Totally crazy. They just kept going and we all wondered what was going on. I called a Swedish teammate of the players and he answered ‘we think that they are on something, we can barely speak with them on a match day.’”

This particular source pointed to the reason why cocaine has become the substance of choice:

“Cocaine can be better than alcohol, because you won’t be hungover.”

He does however point out that he isn’t sure that a Swedish NHL player is currently using cocaine. Börje Salming is the only Swedish player that has confessed to using the drug during his time in the NHL. He did so years after the fact, but still received a six-game suspension upon the admission,. According to one Swedish NHL player that played against Salming’s Toronto Maple Leafs during the 80s, that ban made others stay silent.

“At that time cocaine was common at parties. Many tried it. Me as well. It was stupid and something I came to regret. But the suspension of Salming also meant that the players that had problems and needed help kept quiet as they didn’t want to get that suspension, too.”

All the players that have spoken with SportExpressen say they know of other players that have used drugs, but all of them are quick to point out that there is only a small number that get into trouble because of it.

One active NHLer offered:

“If you go at it too hard off the ice you become a worse player on it. Many players stay calm just because of self-preservation. But it is different over here. The first time I went to a party and they started smoking marijuana I was shocked. I didn’t know where to go. For me that was a narcotic and completely alien. But for many in the US it’s comparable to alcohol and it is even legal in a state like Colorado.”

He continues:

“How you party is usually decided among the leadership group of the team. If you have a core group that is serious and wants to win then it’s usually calmer. Then there is talk about teams with core players that are wild and teams that could have been so much better if they hadn’t partied as hard.”

One player that SportExpressen spoke to, who has his name on the Stanley Cup, says he wants to talk about the off-ice temptations for rookies coming into the league.

“You are thrown into a very different world. Many players have never held a ‘real’ job; they are young, and they get an unbelievable amount of money, and women who throw themselves at them. It is not something that is easy to handle. I have had to speak with young players that have lived from paycheck to paycheck, because they burned through almost everything even with the money they made.”

He still believes parties are needed.

“I am not speaking about drugs, and I have never seen it with my own eyes. But sometimes you need to party hard because of the pressure we live in. It’s not often, but if you are on a road trip with a rest day between games then you party really hard to clear the system. Then it’s only the Sedins that are at the hotel drinking coffee.”

The player who was part of the NHL in the 80s believes that even with the increased numbers of cocaine users, as confirmed by Bill Daly to TSN, it was still more common before.

You wont survive in the league today if you are not behaving. Todays players are also more aware of the importance of diet and training regimens, and everyone has a personal trainer. No one had that before. With social media around there is also an added risk of getting caught.

Daly was also asked to comment on the situation for the feature.

"The NHL and NHLPA have always worked closely together to help the players, when its needed, with their private life.

Andrew Wolfe on the NHLPA had this to say:

"The players have professional help available 24/7."


There is much more information within the article itself, and it’s some great work done by one of the top sports journalists in Sweden.