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With a policy language in place, Performance Enhancing Drug testing delayed by the NHL

The NHL has shown some commitment towards testing for the Human Growth Hormone, but it will wait at least another season to test for it. Is the NHL skating around the issue?

Bruce Bennett

Major League Baseball continues to suffer from the fallout of yet another Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) scandal (hello Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, among others) , but the National Hockey League has been lucky to continue avoiding even a shred of negative press regarding PED's, at least for now.

It isn't just the NHL either who has avoided bad press regarding PED usage...the National Football League and National Basketball Association have too. Well at least in the recent past. The National Football League had their own issues back in the 1970's and 1980's. However, the problem with PED's in the NFL is almost non-existent. That is because they took a step to correct the situation instead of ignore it.

But, if the NHL continues to turn a blind eye towards the most controversial PED's, the Human Growth Hormone (HGH), it is only a matter of time before the League begins to have a problem with it.

PED use has been seen in all kinds of different sports and athletic contests. It is possible that the use of PED's aren't as common in the NHL and other leagues, but why does it seem like the NHL is always excluded in the PED conversation? Because there hasn't been PED scandal in the NHL yet? That could be. I've heard another argument too. "Hockey players are some of the toughest people on the planet and don't need steroids." Good argument but not so sound.

Any athlete wants to get better at their given sport, that one edge that sets them apart and helps them win. So why wouldn't hockey players?

I am not trying to start up a firestorm here saying "PED's are 100% being used in hockey no doubt about it." I am just saying that the NHL needs to step up the fight against PED's in case they are being used. It is better to be safe than sorry, right?

We cannot jump to assumptions here saying that NHL players are definitely using PED's but we all know better than to assume the league is completely clean. However, if the NHL is going to prove once and for all that its players are actually PED free, it should stop skating around the issue.

NHL Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said himself last month that the NHL isn't compelled to be the leaders on PED testing. It doesn't have to be, but they can be more proactive about the situation.

The NFL, which was surrounded in controversy in the 1970's and 1980's for steroid use among its players, has taken a proactive approach in modern drug testing; and had required one blood sample from every player during training camp this summer for the purpose of "population studies" and that data will help determine what level of HGH usage will entail discipline.

Following the population studies, the NFL will then randomly choose eight players from five different teams each week during the regular season for testing.

This makes the NFL the second of the four major sports (after MLB) to come forward with a comprehensive plan for PED testing.

The NHL has started the conversation but has no concrete plans for intensive testing. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement does outline new drug testing policies. However, that only includes minimal off-season testing. The most glaring problem is that under the new CBA, players will not be tested for the most controversial PED drug: the Human Growth Hormone (HGH), a drug purported to improve workouts and healing time, which players have started using in recent years.

The new CBA agreement does call for a program committee "to study the issue of HGH testing" and whether or not the league should establish a testing program for the drug. The problem is, it isn't like the NHL can all of a sudden implement a HGH testing plan. Testing for HGH is involved and can be tricky. The most contentious issues in HGH testing involves administering blood samples, and the safety and reliability of the testing itself.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly mentioned last month that the league will wait at least another year to test for HGH. But how much longer will they actually wait?

What confuses me is that the NFL is able to implement a policy, why couldn't the NHL have included a more extensive testing policy at the time the NFL did? If the NHL is going to prove once and for all that its players are actually PED free, it should stop skating around the issue.

Don't forget, the NHL almost had a firestorm in 2011 when retired player Georges Laraque released his book "The Story of the NHL's Unlikeliest Tough Guy." In the book, Laraque stated that he witnessed many players using performance enhancing substances during his time in the NHL.

In the book, Laraque wrote "it was true that quite a lot of them did use this drug, but other, more talented players did too. Most of us knew who they were, but not a single player, not even me, would ever think of raising his hand to break the silence and accuse a fellow player."

That wasn't the first time the NHL was suspected in connection to possible steroid use.

In 2010, a Virginia chiropractor who treated multiple Washington Capitals players, plead guilty to multiple misdemeanor steroids charges.

The chiropractor, Douglas Nagel, had multiple offices in the exact complex as the Capitals' practice facility. Nagel was placed on three years of probation. Nagel denied he ever distributed steroids and said the drugs he ordered from a Florida supplier were for personal use.

But, the supplier of the steroids told investigators that Nagel went around boasting that the steroids were for professional athletes.

Washington players Eric Fehr, Matt Bradley, and Shaone Morrisonn admitted to receiving treatment from Nagel for chiropractic reason but denied ever getting steroids from him or from anyone else.

When Nagel was arrested in the spring of 2010, the Capitals (along with the NHL) conducted an investigation and found nothing linking the Nagel case to steroid use by any members of the Capitals. However, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at the time the NHL was not co-operative in his investigation of the case.

Laraque also said in his book that he had been trying to get the NHL to instill a testing program for performance enhancing drugs since 1997, when he started playing in league. According to him though, the NHLPA didn't listen at first.

"They wanted to keep drug testing as a card in their negotiations with the league," he wrote. "Plus, since their main goal was to protect the players, to take action against drugs would have harmed some of those players."

Although the NHL now has a PED policy, something is still missing: the testing for HGH. It surprises me a little bit that despite these incidents, the League still does not test for HGH. If the NHL is going to prove its seriousness on this issue and avoid a scandal of their own, the delays in testing this drug need to come to an end.

At least the conversation has started.