Krys Barch is 32. I had to look that up because frankly, before today, I hadn’t thought much about Krys Barch or his career as a professional hockey player, which began back in 2000 as a Washington Capitals farm hand.
But on the weekend, in what colleague Bruce Dowbiggin described a “boozy Twitter rant,” Barch made a series of points - some defensible, some nonsensical - about life at the bottom of the NHL totem pole, a necessary contribution to the lockout dialogue.
Barch talked about short careers and the occupational hazards of a fourth liner who had 669 career penalty minutes and 31 career points in 304 NHL games. All fair comment. There are hazards to being an NHL enforcer just as there are hazards to being an NHL journeyman or an NHL star.
Most players in the NHL accept the risks and consequences of long-term health issues as the unhappy trade-off for salaries that start at $525,000 per season and can escalate into the tens of millions. Making the game safer would be a nice by product of any new CBA that comes along, whenever that might occur. But Barch wondered specifically how to make ends meet with a young family and pregnant wife and that’s where he lost a lot of people. I know, for me, someone who endured an eighth month newspaper strike with a young family and a stay-at-home mom, the visceral answer I wanted to blurt out is, start thinking about what life after the NHL might look like - and start doing it right now.
Barch played a career high of seven minutes and 14 seconds per night for the Florida Panthers last year. If the NHL season resumes, he will be a New Jersey Devil, but it is safe to say that with his advancing age and limited skill level, the end is pretty close, lockout or no lockout.
Question: Do some NHL players honestly and sincerely believe that their work life ends once professional hockey is over? Do they imagine a world of Freedom 35; and that once they’ve earned their pile of money, large or small, the rest of their lives will unfold like some long golfing vacation?
Some probably do, but even the ones that don’t want to lift a finger for the rest of their lives eventually get bored with sloth. People need a purpose, even billionaire owners, to keep getting up in the morning. So rather than lament his lot in life, Barch - and others like him - could use the opportunity to get a glimpse into what the next 30 or so years of his working life might look like.
The one advantage that professional hockey players have is that their resumes (and fame) will sometimes get them in the door at a lot of companies that might ignore other qualified, but less well-known candidates. So find an internship, or take a course, or volunteer for an unpaid position with a hospital or a charity, and start developing the set of skills needed to get on with the second half of their respective lives.
It beats the counter-productive alternative - sitting around, with a beer and a shot, ruminating in public about your unhappy lot in life.