Sean Hill was suspended for 20 games by the NHL last season. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
From a sports fan’s perspective, the Roger Clemens-Brian McNamee congressional hearing soap opera was compelling and titillating, in a detached sort of way.
From a hockey magazine editor’s perspective, it was thought-provoking and wheel-spinning, in a “what could this mean to us” sort of way.
The more I noodled it, the more I came back to the conclusion the NHL is being presented with a glittering opportunity to win friends and influence people…and perhaps even grow its fan base along the way.
How? By satiating the public’s appetite for morality and becoming the gold standard, the undisputed heavyweight champion, of drug testing in professional team sports.
Those attached to the game will tell you its testing policies are already stringent. Players are subject to at least one, and as many as three, “no notice” tests during the course of a season. Supporters point to the fact that just one player, Sean Hill, now of Minnesota, has produced a positive test, as proof there is no problem in the sport.
The detractors argue that as long as there is no out-of-season testing, the process lacks teeth and the results are meaningless. The off-season is when players do their most intensive training and, logic would follow, that’s when a performance-enhancer or growth hormone would provide the most benefit.
The fact is, nobody truly knows how pervasive steroid use is in the NHL, if it is at all. To date, we know: Hill was nabbed; one-time Montreal enforcer Dave Morissette admitted he was a user; Buffalo’s Andrew Peters acknowledged he dabbled with androstenedione when it wasn’t a banned substance; former NHLer Andrei Nazarov claimed a few years ago the vast majority of fighters were on some form of juice; one-time pugilist Dennis Bonvie asserted he’d brawled with opponents he believed had used steroids.
And the rumors and whispers have been persistent.
All the speculation could be laid to rest if the NHL and the union agreed on a new process that would satisfy the harshest critics – heck, let former WADA chairman Dick Pound devise the parameters. If the league is as squeaky-clean as its leaders insist it is, the NHL would have nothing to lose and so much to gain.
THIS WEEK’S ‘WHOA’ AWARD
My partner often laughs at me when I’m watching sports; she finds humor in the sounds I make when something remarkable happens.
Her biggest chuckle, and my biggest “whoa” moment this week, came when Minnesota’s Brent Burns undressed St. Louis’ Manny Legace in a shootout.
It reinforced my belief the shootout, which can sometimes leave me wanting, is still a winning idea for the NHL.
Jason Kay is the editor of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend.
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