- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 31, 2009

— NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made a strong plea to the league’s players association to agree to stricter drug testing a few days after a man arrested in Florida said he sold steroids to members of the Washington Capitals.

“We don’t believe there is a performance-enhancing drug problem in this league, but I acknowledge that our testing program could be more comprehensive,” Bettman said Saturday before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. “It is time, we believe, that the players association step up and agree to make the changes that the World Anti-Doping Agency has recommended that we make to make the program even more comprehensive than it is.”

Bettman also addressed the claim made by Richard Thomas to Polk County (Fla.) police that he had sold steroids to players on the Capitals. Thomas and his wife, Sandra, were arrested Tuesday on 10 counts of steroid possession with intent to distribute, 10 counts of importing the drugs and one count of maintaining a dwelling for drug sales when their house in central Florida was raided by police and steroids at an estimated value of $200,000 were found.

“Name the sport - if they played it, I sold it,” Thomas said during interrogation, according to Polk County Sherriff Grady Judd. The Capitals and Washington Nationals were the only teams Thomas named.

“There were no specifics to the allegations other than someone who got arrested said without naming any particular people or players,” Bettman said. “No one is certain, based on what we’ve been able to learn so far, that there is anything there, but because we take this entire matter very seriously - the matter of performance-enhancing drugs - we are investigating.”

Critics of the NHL’s current drug policy point to no testing both during the playoffs and the offseason as holes in the league’s quest to prevent players from using performance-enhancing substances. The league began testing players in January 2006, and only one NHL player has been suspended, then-Islanders defenseman Sean Hill in April 2007.

Bettman wants the NHLPA to agree to not only year-round testing but also a more expansive list of substances to be tested for. WADA has an out-of-competition list of banned substances and an extended in-competition list; the NHL currently uses the former for its testing.

“The players association has not been ready to embrace it, but [NHLPA director] Paul Kelly has indicated that he supports it, and I take him at his word,” Bettman said. “He believes he needs some time to persuade his members to go along with it, but I think we need to be more comprehensive both in terms of the calendar on which we test and the substances for which we are testing.

“Both Paul and I testified before Congress not too long ago that we both believe in having the strongest possible program. I still believe it. I want it, but I need the players association to be a willing partner in that regard.”

The NHLPA released a statement from Kelly in reaction to Bettman’s comments.

“The NHLPA will be discussing drug testing with our membership this summer,” it read. “The NHL did not want to include playoff testing when the joint program was first collectively bargained back in 2005 as they deemed that the testing would be a distraction, and that is an area the league has now indicated they would like to review with the NHLPA. … While we continue to review the program and discuss modifications with our members, we are pleased with how the program has operated to date.”

Datsyuk still out

The Detroit Red Wings welcomed back Nicklas Lidstrom, six-time Norris Trophy winner for best defenseman, to the lineup Saturday but were still without Pavel Datsyuk, a finalist for the Hart Trophy as league MVP.

Lidstrom missed the last two games of the Western Conference finals with a lower-body injury. Jonathan Ericsson, who missed Game 5 against the Chicago Blackhawks because of an emergency appendectomy, also returned.

Detroit was again without veteran Kris Draper, who had played in only four of 16 playoff games this season.

Datsyuk, who has missed three games because of a foot injury, said after the morning skate Saturday he expected to be a game-time decision, but minutes later Detroit coach Mike Babcock said his star center would be unavailable.

“When he first gets on the ice, especially in the morning, he’s really stiff to get his foot going. It takes him a bit to get going,” Babcock said. “Now we haven’t tested it in a game-time situation where you get there and you get warmed up and you do all that stuff yet. We’ve tried a number of things, and it hasn’t responded the way we first anticipated.”