NHL's abuse policy is dopey

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

It sounded awfully impressive when the National Hockey League announced it.

It's the new and improved (fanfare) Performance Enhancing Substances Program.

Its revelation was met with a sage nodding of heads and grave intonations. There were nods of assent, and assurances that the NHL is taking the lead in cracking down on substance abuse.

The even deeper thinkers decreed this was a step to keep the U.S. Congress happy, as if the House of Representatives cares in the least about the NHL.

In fact, this program is likely to be nothing more than a fertile battlefield for the ongoing acrimony between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association.

If it does anything more than line the pockets of a few dozen lawyers and the occasional stray doctor, it will be downright astonishing.

What wasn't widely noted by those making the announcement was the fact the program is limited to performance-enhancing substances.

As league officials explained to the governors, "All other forms of 'substance abuse' and behavioural and domestic issues requiring employee assistance will continue to be handled through the NHL/NHLPA Program for Substance Abuse and Behavioural Health."

In other words, the NHL has retained the same program it had before the lockout.

It merely has added another committee to deal with the use of "performance-enhancing" substances.

And exactly what are these performance-enhancing substances? How thoughtless of you to ask a question like that. You just took all the fun out of the announcement.

The league and the NHLPA have to agree on the substances in question.

Sure, that's likely.

They agree on so many things -- especially when player suspensions are a part of the equation.

There won't be an awful lot of commonality on this committee. It will be composed of an equal number of representatives from each side, plus one doctor nominated by each side.

Perfectly balanced committees are not noted for bold, decisive actions.

So far, the two sides have agreed on one matter. Sudafed, a staple of many NHL players' diets, will not be on the list. It is specifically excluded.

The uninitiated might expect steroids to be on the list. That would be a hazardous assumption.

Many steroids are used to promote healing of bones. They are administered by NHL team doctors and outside specialists. You can hardly ban a player for 20 games for getting an injection to ease the spinal problem he incurred as a result of taking too many crosschecks.

Furthermore, to specifically target steroids as opposed to other forms of substances, would be to target a certain type of player -- the guy who for whom strength is a primary commodity. The nifty players have no interest in steroids.

But suppose one of those so-called skill players has a splitting headache. It's so intrusive that he can't keep his mind on the game. If he takes a serious over-the-counter analgesic, surely it will enhance his performance. Does he sit out 20 games for that?

You can be sure the NHLPA decision-makers are not going to put players into a position that would allow them to be embarrassed publicly and labelled as "druggies" for using something that the rest of us use on a regular basis.

Who can blame them?

And one more point.

Do you remember the announcement of the "lifetime ban" for third offence?

It is, in fact, a two-year open-ended ban. After two years, the player can apply for reinstatement.

As if anyone will be caught three times under this program.


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