BOSTON -- The NHL and the NHLPA's heightened concerns about a possible increase in players' cocaine use were met with both surprise and gratitude in the Boston Bruins' locker room.
The report by TSN posted Monday night said the league has started talks with the NHL Players’ Association to add cocaine and other similar drugs to the list of banned substances that the league regularly monitors.
Currently the NHL-NHLPA's joint drug-testing program does not test for recreational drugs. But the NHLPA administers extra testing on one-third of tests that screen for recreational drugs.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly told TSN that “the number of [cocaine] positives are more than they were in previous years, and they’re going up.”
The players would have to agree to ratify the current collective bargaining agreement to add recreational drug testing.
"I hope it’s not a growing issue," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "All I can do right now is look at my group of players and see if there are any issues. I haven’t seen any signs of any issues here. It doesn’t mean I’m 100 percent right, but at some point we would notice certain things, and right now I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we continue to be a team that’s pretty clean.
"We get drug tested like anything else all the time, so our guys are so far, knock on wood, we haven’t had any issues."
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, known for his clean record, said he’s never dealt or seen any issues during his career, but he is happy that the report came out and the league and the NHLPA are working together to fix any issues.
"Any time you have something serious drug-related, or performance-enhancing-drugs-related issues, you’re going to see the league stepping in with the players’ association," Chara said. "I’m sure they’re going to do whatever they can to address the issues and make the players aware of it and make the league clean."
Veteran forward Chris Kelly concurred with Chara’s remarks.
"I’m actually surprised, to be honest," Kelly said. "In my whole career I’ve never been around it. It’s never been an issue. Maybe players have had issues that I’ve never known about, but I was actually kind of surprised it is an issue.
"In Boston, it’s a nonissue. That’s a problem no one wants to have. The game is stressful enough, and I don’t think you need to add problems like that to your life. I hope, if it is an issue, the players that are abusing it, or using it, get the help they need because the league does a great job providing that help."
The NHL and NHL Players' Association substance abuse and behavioral health program is available to all players. A player is only contacted by the program's doctors if a result "shows a dangerously high level for a drug of abuse such that it causes concern for the health or safety of the player or others," according to the collective bargaining agreement. Players convicted of a drug-related crime are automatically enrolled in the program.
While Kelly was surprised to hear the report, he was actually glad the league and the players’ association are trying to be proactive about the situation.
"That’s fantastic," Kelly said. "If there are some guys that have problems, it’s great that the league’s not just washing their hands of it, saying 'It’s not our problem, it’s your problem.' It’s great that the league is stepping up and saying, 'We’re here to help.' I don’t know how many unions or employers are willing to do that."