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Avoid the 'Roids

A true tempest-in-a-teapot erupted over the weekend when Dick Pound (stop that snickering) of the World Anti-Doping Agency told the London (Ontario) Free Press that "you wouldn't be far wrong if you said a third" of NHL players were using performance-enhancing drugs. Given the recent steroid scandals surrounding Major League Baseball, this was an incendiary remark to toss out there without any proof or substantiation, and the NHL is trying to put dampen the flames.

The problem, however, is that the message from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has sounded basically defensive so far - a demand that Pound document his claims. The venerable Don Cherry thinks it's time to call in the lawyers, which I'm sure will solve the whole mess, right?

What would be more encouraging would be to hear Bettman get out in front of the issue and talk about what the NHL is doing to control the use of performance enhancers in hockey, instead of merely reacting and claiming innocence - we've seen that already from the likes of Rafael Palmeiro, and similar sound bites just aren't that credible anymore.

Is there a steroid problem in hockey? That's doubtful - muscle mass just doesn't play the same role in hockey as it does in mashing home runs, but there are other performance-enhancers out there besides steroids. Amphetamines have long been rumored to be prevalent not just in hockey but other sports, as a way to keep players "up" during the course of a long, hard season (of which the NHL's is the longest, and arguably the hardest). Baseball is starting to take a harder stance on "greenies", but what about the NHL? Who knows? I checked and found the press release covering drug testing, and while it sounds good (20 games suspension for 1st offense, 60 for 2nd, premanent for 3rd) the question remains, what is on the list of banned substances, and what is not? Is Pound going to come out with further information that disrupts what has been so far a very successful NHL season?

Whatever the case, the control of this issue is entirely in Dick Pound's hands (hehehe... I mean it, stop snickering) and Bettman is just along for the ride. That's not a situation that the commissioner wants to be in for very long.