Gilbert Brule, during his last 33 games stint in the NHL with Phoenix in 2011-12, where he put up 14 points.

Gilbert Brule, during his last 33 games stint in the NHL with Phoenix in 2011-12, where he put up 14 points.

Personal issues affecting work performance is not a problem unique to professional sports. By a long shot. Some days the quality of my writing may suffer because of something in my personal life the same way Accountant Jim may get misplace a decimal because he started his car with his cat napping on the engine that morning. Life happens.

The only real reason it’s a bigger deal in professional sports (assuming Accountant Jim isn’t working on some crazy government account or something) is that 18,000 people are watching your performance a night to go along with the five or so important people in your organization who make the decisions about what to do with you on a daily basis. There’s no time to proofread your work and correct your mistakes.

I remember playing Gilbert Brule when he was 15 years old and playing for the Quesnel Millionaires. The only things he did better than me at the time (I was 18) was skate, shoot, hit and generally play hockey. You had to keep tabs on him at all times. He went from there to the Vancouver Giants to being taken 6th overall in the 2005 draft by Columbus. He was a star in the making.

Only, it never quite panned out. Brule scored 17 times to go with 20 assists in 65 games in 2009-10 as a 23 year old, then bottomed out. He played 14 games in Switzerland during the lockout, where he piled up a whopping zero goals and six assists…and now he can’t find an NHL job.

But one thing the average fan doesn’t know, is that Brule’s life behind the scenes wasn’t all peaches and cream, and it’s quite possible he’s finally finding himself on the right path just as NHL teams have given up on him.

Tony Gallagher of The Province wrote about what Brule went through, and why he believes he finds himself where he is in his career at the ripe old age of 26. Starting with his years in Edmonton:

Brule was depressed about his fractured relationship with his father, Chris Brule — a man who, until recently, had been heavily involved in his son’s career, even long before he became a star with the Giants.

The medications Gilbert was on seemed to exacerbate the problem.

Brule was prescribed meds after the below issues started to take over his life:

Brule says he entrusted his father with the care of the money he had worked so hard for, with the understanding that he was building a company for him.

Instead, he says his dad was doing something else with the money, something that ended poorly.

“Basically, he was taking money from me,” Brule said last week before one of his rigorous workouts aimed at getting his hockey career back on track, as the 26-year-old, free-agent centre is looking for a tryout with an NHL team this fall.

Brule went so far as to say there were threats of blackmail from his father who was after more money. Distracting times, to say the least.

Since then, Brule and his father have all but cut ties, save for a few emails. He’s seen therapists and gotten off the meds that he feels he was rushed on to get back to hockey as soon as he could. He’s back with his old trainer (and says his body fat is down to eight percent from 13, while his cardio capacity is better than ever), and the talented forward is hoping to get a shot to prove he can still be a valuable NHL center.

I can’t speak to the specific difficulties Brule went through, or just how much they affected his play on the ice, but if he was in fact going through some personal issues, man, can it be hard to focus on hockey, let alone care about it the game at all.

In my personal experience, one year of my life in my early 20s was basically a write-off. It was just…awful. That was my junior season at the University of Alaska Anchorage, which ended up being hell from basically the moment I touched down in Alaska after summer. I was coming off a solid sophomore season where I tied for the team lead in goals, and everyone had high hopes for the numbers I would put up that junior year.


Yeah not so much.

That particular year I couldn’t wait for practice to be over, where the previous seasons I’d stay out with my roommates, work on one-timers and just generally mess around on the ice. The end of a relationship for me meant less focus on the type of training that’s valuable for hockey, and more on the type that helps you fill out a t-shirt well. I “wanted” to have success on the ice, but it was definitely a backburner issue for me that year.

That summer, I turned my focus back to hockey (time heals all wounds, as they say), and my senior year went considerably better.

For Brule, you hope he’s at that point too. You hope that he’s found away to deal with the issues that were affecting his life off the ice, and you hope another NHL team gives him a chance.

Pro hockey is littered with players whose circumstances took them out of a position to succeed, which is why the human element of scouting and GM work can be so important too. It ain’t just stats and size that go into decisions (Brule actually mentions that the Canucks passed on him because of his father in the past). If a team reaches out to Brule and gives him the league minimum, who knows how much bang for their buck they could get? Hell, even a two-way would be worth a shot. A second chance for a guy like Brule could end up benefiting both parties.

(S/t to Kukla’s Korner)


A little addendum here:  I was a little concerned with the amount of blame doled out by Brule in some of those quotes in Gallagher’s article, but it’s impossible to know just what was really happening in his personal life at the time, and currently. This is what I mean when I say the human element of pro and amateur scouting is so important. Players are people too, so it’s not impossible to see why the highly acclaimed “good guy” factor is so coveted by teams. Like in most workplaces, people with simpler lives are often preferred.

Comments (16)

  1. My question with stuff like this is: how do scouts and decision makers sort between guys like, say, Theoren Fleury, who battled personal issues forever but still crushed things in the league for a long time, from guys whose performance will be persistently compromised?

    • I think that’s a huge debate that goes on behind the scenes constantly with professional sports teams. You see it more in the NFL - Hey, Plaxico Burress is out of jail. If we take a chance on him and he’s cleaned up his act, great bang for our buck. Smart teams cash in on talented players with “character issues” all the time.

      On the other hand, some people never get it together, and you end up as a part of the circus because you take the chance. I think these decisions are a major part of the job. (One of the best gambles: Lombardi in LA took Richards and Carter – success. Holmgren deemed them to be too much.)

      • Indeed. It’s no doubt a difficult, on-going dance.

        The danger I see sometimes is the tendency for post-hoc personal issue explanations of failure or underperformance, when in fact maybe a dude just wasn’t good enough.

        That said, I don’t at all doubt that careers/abilities can be derailed by idiosyncratic factors.

      • Brule was a player I followed out of junior, and remained somewhat partial to as the classic example of a player who should have been left in junior for seasoning–a mid-sized kid who played fearlessly–and ended up having his sternum crushed as an 18 year old in the NHL.

        So on top of everything else, susceptible to depression, you’re 18, living the dream and …

  2. I’d imagine you sign him to a PTO based on potential and evaluate his play, fitness test him and have frank discussions with him to see where his head is at.

    No harm no foul if it doesn’t work out but if you get a guy with that kind of skill in the right head space and with the desire and fortitude to succeed then its a big win. For our Flames that could be a nice gamble at center ice.

    I’d say Peter Mueller is another similar gamble worth taking. More physical issues than mental but…

  3. It didn’t help Gilbert that he was rushed to the NHL by the Blue Jackets as an 18 year old when in reality he wasn’t even close to ready physically or mentally. It is turning into a positive story and I really hope it works out for him.

  4. I thought he played well with the Coyotes, and the only thing that fans were worried about was his price tag. He was making a lot from his previous contract when we picked him off waivers, and re-signing him would most likely require him to take a significant pay cut. If he’s better physically and mentally though I can see a team signing him to a one year deal just to see how things go and hopefully getting something good out of him.

  5. Sadly just another instance of NHLer’s not being ready for money and entrusting it all with people who arn’t accountants or investers.

    Maybe his dad was legititmly trying to create a family bussiness and just failed at it? The blackmail thing is troubling but who knows who he got tangled up with.

  6. New Jersey should take a shot with Brule

  7. I think Brule would make an excellent calgary flame. After seeing some of the teams offensive experiements of the last few years i think brule may actually be a solid nhl talent worth giving a 2nd chance.

  8. I’m sure his only escape from his personal problems was playing hockey, and when that isn’t going so well, a whole host of other problems can manifest. I truly hope he’s been able to put his issues behind him, have fun playing the game again, and most importantly start living his life again.

  9. Justin … This is a really wonderful post !! I only vaguely remember the name – which is rather sad. But no, we seldom if ever get to know the athlete away from the game.

    I hope the young man gets another chance. Even if not, here’s hoping he has success in life.

  10. I remember Brule as a Vancouver Giant – hard worker, smallish physical center with lots of skill, and the consolation prize for Sid Crosby for teams needing to draft a playmaking pivot.

    I also seem to remember, but can’t find the quote, that when asked if he wanted to be a Vancouver Canuck, his answer was oddly equivocal. Tony Gallagher’s article suggests that Brule did not want to stay here because of Dad, which is just…ew. Sad. As a parent, I am angry. What is more important than your kid, Dad????

  11. Until you have walked a mile in someone’s shoes it is hard to question what really happened. First rule in accounting never let family look after your money. They will lie . cheat and steal to make everything seem as if they are perfectly right spending this person’s money however they saw fit. Kudoos to Gilbert for speaking out , again it is a question that reminds us of what happened regarding Rick Rypien and Boogard although circumstances are not the same it affects you the same way.

    • those two were drugged out pussies who offed themselves because their careers would be over soon and have no money to buy coke with

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