November 05, 2011
Georges Laraque(notes) has a new book called "The Story of the NHL's Unlikeliest Tough Guy," and while his accusations about performance enhancing drugs won't lead to Roger Clemens testifying before a Congressional sub committee, they'll probably sell a few copies.
It takes a special kind of naivety to believe there aren't players in the NHL today, or through the last 20 years, that use steroids. Was it ever "one in three players" as the fabulously named Dick Pound claimed in 2007? I don't believe so. They're not a part of the culture to that level. But that doesn't mean use isn't, or wasn't, prevalent.
Some players are going to do whatever it takes to gain a competitive advantage, whether it's for strength or recuperation. They've used the same trainers who were helping baseball and football players juice. The NHL has never acknowledged it as a problem, and thus has a testing policy that the World Anti-Doping Agency called inadequate — including no offseason or postseason testing, and random testing of a handful of players during the season.
The NHLPA share's the blame here, as Laraque notes in his book, via the CP:
Testing for performance enhancing substances was included in the collective bargaining agreement reached by the NHL and the NHLPA in 2005. Under that agreement, every player in the league is subject to three "no-notice" tests from the start of training camp through the end of the regular season. In the book, Laraque said he asked the NHLPA to take action soon after his career began in 1997.
The NHLPA listened, but initially refused to take any action, "for obvious political reasons."
"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."
Which players? Laraque wants the world to know it wasn't just goons — and offers a handy guide to who he believes was doping.
First, it should be said he doesn't name any names, at least according to the excerpts. Second, keep in mind he's talking about his playing days, which ended in 2010: "In my final years in the NHL, the league finally decided to set clear and precise rules against the use of any performance enhancing drugs," Laraque wrote, via the Toronto Star. "I was relieved, and found it funny how much weight some players had lost in just one year."
As far as your 'guess the juicers' parlor games are concerned, Laraque says its the grunts and star players — and to check the Olympic cycle. From the Toronto Star's excerpt from the book:
I can give you some clues here that will help you identify the ones using steroids, if you really feel like it. First, you just have to notice how some talented players will experience an efficiency loss as well as a weight loss every four years, those years being the ones where the Winter Olympics are held.
In the following season they make a strong comeback; they manage a mysterious return to form.
As for the tough guys, a statistics maniac can easily identify who's taking drugs and who's not. You just have to compare their last junior league's weight to the one they had arriving with the pros. Nobody, and I really mean nobody, can gain forty to seventy pounds in just one summer without taking anything suspicious. When you're in close contact with them, it's even easier to tell: the change in their voice, the swelling neck, the appearance of acne — they're not fooling anyone.
More here from the Star, including other drug use by enforcers.
Is there a steroid problem in the NHL? There's really only one group that can make that call, and it's the players.
My main question is, what does the NHL or NHLPA (or the PHPA in the minors, for that matter) have to gain from keeping testing at a minimum?
Maybe they're worried that catching players with positive tests will eat away at hockey's credibility the way baseball's has been damaged. I don't know, I can't think of any other reason. And if that's it, that's just as dishonest as being the type of guy who jabs so many needles in his ass he ends up throwing bat-shards at people.
The current system is inadequate because people are using and not getting caught. That's not hearsay or rumor, that's first-hand fact.
The new CBA is coming up, and this is something that needs to be rectified. A lot of players will be in favor of an increase in testing, too.
Are there other Georges Laraques out there, sneering at the users as their weight yo-yos every four years? Who know who is using, and how many are using, but can't speak up?
Do the players really want stronger testing?