CAUGHT IN THE NETS
ROPE A DOPE
Every day there isn't a report of a player failing the NHL's drug testing protocol is a victory for the NHL. Testing began Jan. 15 and every player will be tested at least twice before the end of the season. There's about a 10-day turnaround on the tests and all positive tests will be released to the public with any guilty player facing a 20-game suspension for a first positive test, 60 games for a second and a lifetime ban for a third strike.
Negative tests won't be reported, so no news is good news for those keeping score. That said, the NHL and its players could do themselves a world of good in the court of public opinion by closing the one glaring loophole in the new drug policy, the first of its kind for the league. Because players aren't tested during the offseason, critics like Dick Pound (pictured) of the World Anti-Doping Association have been quick to savage the league and the NHL Players Association as soft on performance-enhancing drugs, suggesting that the offseason is the most likely time when players will be juicing as they prepare for the coming season.
The dearth of positive tests at international competitions over the past decade suggests the NHL's problem, if it has one, is minor compared to baseball and football, but surely it wouldn't take much to get the NHL and the NHLPA to come up with a plan to include at least some random testing in the offseason. If there isn't a problem, the additional testing won't be anything more than an inconvenience to players' golf games and sun tanning. If there is a problem, offseason testing will help weed out the problem players. If nothing else, such a move would shut down attention seekers like Pound, who asserted, without providing a shred of empirical evidence, that as many as one-third of NHL players were using some form of performance-enhancing drug. -- S.B.