With the tragic passing of three NHL "enforcers" this summer, a huge debate has been sparked about fighting and the consequences on players who fill that dangerous and high-pressured role.
And that's a good, if not vital debate to have.
Yet perhaps an important point is being missed here, simply because talking about it makes people more uneasy than simply discussing a rule change or a hockey play.
It's convenient to think that eliminating fighting from the game will make these tragic stories go away, but is that really the main cause in these tragedies? Or is it a red herring?
It's no surprise that the rise of mental illness in NHL players coincides with the rise of mental illness in society (such as chronic depression, anxiety disorders etc.). Like Daniel Alfredsson said in his high profile campaign to raise awareness about these issues, everyone is eventually affected by mental illness, whether it's you or someone in your family or a friend.
The rate of fighting in the NHL has decreased over the years from its peak in the 1970's. There was no rash of deaths or suicides during that time or immediately afterwards. Yet even though fighting is a relatively minor part of the game in today's NHL, people are quick to link the tragedies and are finding a sympathetic ear from people eager to point to a simple solution to the problem.
Logically, with mental illness and depression being described by some doctors as a "pandemic" in today's society, are we really surprised that we are now seeing a rise in the once insulated world of the NHL?
It can't be ignored that Derek Boogard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak were all "fighters" during their career and it would be wrong to suggest that these types of players don't feel a special pressure that some non-fighters have to face.
That pressure is certainly contributing to their problems. People prone to mental illness will respond to pressure differently (and I'm not suggesting Belak had a mental illness - too little is known at this time to jump to conclusions).
Yet how do we explain so many ex-enforcers living normal, successful lives while others see their lives shortened by tragedy? This would suggest the problem is much more complex than the easy explanation that fighting in hockey is ruining lives.
Why does a high profile athlete like ex-Blue Jays pitcher Mike Flanagan take his life? He wasn't an NHL enforcer. A lot of athletes face depression after their careers end because they are not prepared for the everyday challenges that regular people face.
People are very quick to point to fighting as the main culprit but are much more uncomfortable talking about mental illness, perhaps because mental illness is not a black and white issue. There's no firm ground to stand on or a strong position to take against someone else. It's a grey zone and people don't know how to face it or explain it.
It's out of the ordinary for a high profile athlete like Daniel Alfredsson to talk about the issue in public. Maybe more of us should take a listen before running to the safest, least challenging and obvious position to make these tragic stories go away.
You could take fighting out of the game, but mental illness is here to stay. These stories will keep happening long after fighting has been banned unless more awareness is raised about the issue and steps are taken to help athletes fight depression, addiction and any other problems that plague the entire population, not just "NHL enforcers".