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NHL, NHLPA release statements in wake of player deaths

The National Hockey League and NHL Players' Association issued joint statements on Thursday to address the multiple deaths of current and former players in a span of several months.

"Everyone at the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association is profoundly saddened by the loss, within a matter of a few weeks, of three young men, each of whom was in the prime of his life.

"While the circumstances of each case are unique, these tragic events cannot be ignored. We are committed to examining, in detail, the factors that may have contributed to these events, and to determining whether concrete steps can be taken to enhance player welfare and minimize the likelihood of such events taking place. Our organizations are committed to a thorough evaluation of our existing assistance programs and practices and will make immediate modifications and improvements to the extent they are deemed warranted.

"It is important to ensure that every reasonable step and precaution is taken to make NHL players, and all members of the NHL family, aware of the vast resources available to them when they are in need of assistance. We want individuals to feel comfortable seeking help when they need help.

"NHL clubs and our fans should know that every avenue will be explored and every option pursued in the furtherance of this objective."

Long-time enforcer Wade Belak was the latest casualty.

The Toronto Sun reported Wednesday that the 35-year-old was discovered at the 1 King West hotel and condo complex -- an upscale establishment in Toronto's financial district. Belak last played for the Nashville Predators and retired in March after a long NHL career. The cause of death is still unknown.

He was the third former NHL tough guy to die this offseason, after former Wild and Rangers pugilist Derek Boogaard on May 13 and Jets forward Rick Rypien, who died of an apparent suicide on August 15.

In addition to the triple tragedies this offseason, former San Jose Sharks forward prospect Tom Cavanagh lost his battle with mental illness in early January.