Bieksa carrying on Rypien's legacy with mindcheck.ca

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Bieksa carrying on Rypien's legacy with mindcheck.ca

VANCOUVER Kevin Bieksa is a tough guy, playing in a tough-guy league.

Be strong, keep a stiff upper lip: thats the mantra of so many sporting types. Talking about sensitive subjects, such as a serious illness like depression, happens rarely.

Bieksa, for one, has had enough of the silence in and out of the locker room. The Vancouver Canucks defenseman lost one of his best friends, Rick Rypien, last summer when the young forward committed suicide after a long battle with depression. So Bieksa is doing his part to help shed the keep-quiet stigma of mental illnesses.

One week ago Bieksa spear-headed the relaunch of mindcheck.ca, a website designed to bring more awareness and get people talking about mental illnesses. The site features various categories as well as a Reality Check quiz to help people identify symptoms.

Bieksa said it was important that he do this for Rypien, who wanted to help others battling the same illness he was.

What he always talked about doing was giving back, doing something that could help other kids who were in the same situation as him, sharing his story and struggles, he said. This is just kind of lending that ear, showing there are other people out there. Its kind of me carrying on Ricks legacy.

And it needed to be done. The stigma surrounding mental illness goes well beyond sports locker rooms. Millions suffer from depression, yet there is not nearly enough awareness, or talk, about it.

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman John Scott lost his close friend, enforcer Derek Boogaard, to an overdose last summer. Boogaard was suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy a degenerative brain disease that can cause dementia, depression and memory loss. Scott commended Bieksa for his work with the website.

Its so hidden, especially among athletes, Scott said of the stigma. We try to be so tough, to hide everything and not show feelings around the guys. Just to make it known that lots of people deal with it, its needed.

Scott admitted he was affected by Boogaards death.

Ive had nights where I was depressed; luckily I had my wife to talk to, he said. A lot of guys dont have someone to bounce feelings off of. Its good that its starting to come out into the open. Its good of Kevin to do that.

Response has been strong. Bieksa said he didnt have the exact numbers, but he estimated that mindcheck.ca gets more than 40,000 visitors a day now compared to the few hundred per day it got previously. Teammate Henrik Sedin wore a mindcheck.ca T-shirt at the All-Star festivities in Ottawa last weekend.

Bieksa has also received heartfelt messages on his Twitter account.

A lot of people are saying how much they appreciate it, that its a good idea. Some people are admitting theyre currently struggling with depression or anxiety and the website is a great help, he said. That means a lot to get those responses.

The mindcheck.ca website is bringing awareness to mental illness. It could save lives. Bieksa is doing it this for everyone but especially for his friend who never got the chance.

(Rypien) kind of became a brother to me. I got close with him and his family, he said. Its obviously the biggest loss Ive ever had to endure.

What to make of Blackhawks blockbuster deals

What to make of Blackhawks blockbuster deals

Before the clock struck noon on a day Chicago was hosting its first ever NHL Draft, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman sent shockwaves throughout the city and hockey world by completing a pair of blockbuster trades within an hour of each other.

The first was dealing three-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona, and the second involving Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad in a swap of talented wingers with Columbus.

This comes two days after the Blackhawks announced Marian Hossa will miss the 2017-18 campaign with a progressive skin disorder. That's three core players gone in the blink of an eye.

Who's ready for a new era in Chicago?

Rather than maximizing a championship window that was viewed as closing quickly, Bowman has elected to take a long-term approach and it might not be the worst idea.

There's no doubt the loss of Hjalmarsson, who remains one of the most underrated blue liners in the league, and Panarin, who finished in the top-10 in scoring among forwards in both of his first two NHL seasons, will sting.

But there's a good chance the Blackhawks wouldn't have been able to reward them with the pay raises they deserve after their contracts expire following the 2018-19 season, and that certainly played a huge role in the decision to head in a new direction.

In reacquiring Saad, the Blackhawks finally give Jonathan Toews that reliable left-winger they've desperately lacked since Saad was shipped out of town in 2015, providing balance throughout the top-six. Saad is also locked up for the next four years at a $6 million cap hit that will look better as time goes by.

For the last two years, the Blackhawks were known as a one-line scoring team thanks to the chemistry developed between Patrick Kane and Panarin.

The second-half emergence of Nick Schmaltz and familiarity Kane has developed with center Artem Anisimov has allowed Panarin to become expendable in their quest to solve their top-line woes. And that's not a bad consolation line, especially when you consider top prospect Alex DeBrincat could also be in the cards as early as this season.

On the back end, the Blackhawks receive a 24-year-old defenseman in Connor Murphy, who's also signed for the next four years at a $3.85 million cap hit, and carries a right-handed shot, something they've needed more of in the organization. While there will certainly be growing pains under Joel Quenneville, Murphy's ceiling is fairly high and gives the Blackhawks some speed coming out of their own zone.

In making both of these deals, the Blackhawks got younger in their attempt to keep up with a league that relies more on speed, addressing a few areas that Nashville exposed during their first-round sweep of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.

And while they may have sacrificed two key players in the short-term, the Blackhawks executed a plan that should keep the perceived championship window open longer than expected.

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

When the Blackhawks found Artemi Panarin, they found a talent who was NHL ready from the start, who found instant chemistry with Patrick Kane and earned a Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. It was also a tremendous panacea for a team that couldn’t pull off a deal to keep Brandon Saad, who was the power forward that fit in beautifully in the Blackhawks’ top six.

On Friday, the Blackhawks brought Saad back and dealt Panarin to do it.   

Saad returns to the Blackhawks, who also acquire goaltender Anton Forsberg, in exchange for Panarin and Tyler Motte. The Blackhawks also get the Blue Jackets’ fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft and the Columbus gets Chicago’s sixth-round pick from this weekend’s draft. Elliotte Friedman was the first to report the deal. The Blackhawks inherit Saad’s deal, which has four years remaining at a $6 million cap hit. Panarin was about to enter his current deal, which is two years with a $6 million cap hit. This is key for the immediate future; when Panarin’s latest deal is up, if he keeps up at his current pace, he’ll likely sign for a lot more.

[MORE: Blackhawks deal Hjalmarsson to Arizona]

The Blackhawks have missed Saad terribly since his departure. The team has struggled to find consistent line mates with Jonathan Toews, especially at that left-wing position. They did fairly well with Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik flanking Toews this season but it wasn’t as strong as the Saad-Toews combination. So it looks like the Blackhawks’ top line will be solidified again.

Now, what about the second line? As good as Toews and Saad’s chemistry was, Panarin’s and Kane’s was dynamite. The two had their respective skill, which they flashed often, and their ability to read each other was evident from the start. The Blackhawks’ second line was as consistent and steady the past two seasons as the top line was during Saad’s time here.

So, there are changes. The Blackhawks will absolutely miss what Panarin brings. But as far as bringing back a former Blackhawks player who could help in the present, getting the 24-year-old Saad back will be very beneficial.