It’s only talk as NHL studies its drug policy

LAS VEGAS | There was more discussion about the NHL’s drug testing policy Saturday, the second day of meetings by the league’s players association, but there were no developments.

Parties from both sides continued to insist there isn’t a problem with performance-enhancing drugs in hockey, and they said they remain open to stricter standards in the policy, but just how far the players association is willing to go remains in question.

“We’ve had some discussions; we need to have some more,” NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly said. “There is a strong consensus that there is not an issue with performance-enhancing drugs or even casual drug use in our sport. … The sport is clean, we want to send the message that [hockey] is clean, and we want to set an example for young kids.”

Gary Bettman addressed those in attendance at the meeting - the first time the commissioner has done so at the NHLPA’s annual summer gathering - and the drug policy was among the issues discussed.

Bettman has called for increased testing, both in the playoffs and the offseason, and for the league to use the World Anti-Doping Agency’s in-competition list instead of the current policy of using the shorter, out-of-competition list.

“While we didn’t discuss specifics, conceptually everyone in the room agreed that this isn’t a sport where the players really have a problem,” Bettman said. “But we can probably do more together to make the drug program look and act better than it does.”

The Washington Capitals moved to the forefront of the discussion last month when Richard Thomas, a Florida man arrested on steroid possession charges, told police he sold them to the Caps and the Washington Nationals.

The NHL and the Caps are conducting an investigation into the allegations.

“Based on what we currently know, there isn’t any evidence to support these claims that came out of Florida,” Kelly said. “There’s no details of any kind, no names of any kind. We think they are exaggerated or fabricated claims, and certainly no current member of the Washington Capitals has been implicated in any improper activity or use of performance-enhancing substances.”

The NHL’s policy includes random testing during the season. Teams can be tested one, two or three times.

Kelly said during the Stanley Cup Finals that the players would discuss the stricter suggestions and vote on whether they would be willing to accept the tougher standards. There was no vote, but Kelly said he would like to see any alterations to the testing policy negotiated before the end of the collective bargaining agreement, which has two seasons remaining, plus an optional year.

Some of the concerns from the players union include how privacy would be affected with offseason testing and the NHL’s lack of involvement with the American Hockey League on the issue.

The AHL does not have a drug-testing policy, and Kelly said the NHL should impose its influence on its top minor league and even help pay for the testing. Kelly said Bettman didn’t agree with his assessment about the NHL’s influence but that it is a good point and something the league should look into.

“I don’t think there is a problem in our sport. That said, I think we could take some steps to improve our program,” Kelly said. “The playoff testing is the most obvious one that ought to be addressed. We should take a good, hard look at the list of substances, but it has to be a two-way street.”

Added Calgary Flames center Mike Cammalleri: “I think there is a privacy issue that I understand our union’s stance that we have to worry about the privacy issue. At the same time, I wouldn’t mind it - I like the idea of drug testing, and I think it is important for us to be on an even playing field. …

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