NHL doping policy raises doubts
Teemu Selanne has an incredible sense of timing.
On Wednesday morning, writing on Wednesday morning for the first time in English on his blog at Selanne.com, the future Hall of Famer took aim at the NHL for its questionable drug-testing policies and at the players who shirk responsibility for their personal decisions.
Hours later, the league announced that Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jarred Tinordi had been banned for 20 games after testing positive for a prohibited substance.
The 24-year-old becomes the second NHLer to be suspended for taking a performance-enhancing drug this season. On Jan. 26, Shawn Horcoff of the Anaheim Ducks was banned 20 games for the same violation.
Tinordi was acquired earlier this year from Montreal as part of the John Scott deal. He's played in just 10 games this season, accruing 17 penalty minutes but no points. In many ways, the former first-rounder and the son of long-time NHLer Mark Tinordi fits the classic profile of the hockey drug cheat. He's a player floating around the periphery of the game, desperate to gain a foothold. And the same competitive drive that inspired a lifetime of exhaustive training makes it pretty easy to rationalize a bit of illicit assistance when it looks like the game is passing you by.
You could almost empathize with him ... until he offered the stereotypical cop-out.
“I am extremely disappointed that I failed a test under the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program,” Tinordi said via an NHLPA release. “I did not knowingly take a banned substance.
“I understand, however, that I am responsible for what enters my body as a professional athlete and I accept the suspension. I will work hard towards my return to the ice and will learn from this frustrating setback.”
That phony mix of bewilderment and honor might have worked 20 years ago. Maybe even 10. But this is 2016. It doesn't fly anymore.
"Every failed doping test has to be taken seriously and it should be remembered that it’s the athlete him or herself who’s responsible for everything they eat, drink or inject into their bodies," Selanne wrote. "Blaming others or claiming ignorance doesn’t help."
Tinordi would have done himself a service by simply coming clean about what he did. But he's not the only one in denial. The NHL and NHLPA are as well.
Hockey's drug policies deserve much deeper scrutiny. Not only for the surprisingly low rate at which they catch cheats—just four, counting Tinordi, in the past 10 years, compared to 52 by Major League Baseball over the same time frame—but for their failure to adhere to more stringent and respected international standards.
The league's policy becomes even tougher to defend as the NHL and NHLPA moves toward the staging of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. A major international event should adhere to international standards. That won't be the case here.
"The NHL has blocked [the World Anti-Doping Agency] from testing players during the World Cup training camps which leads to unnecessary speculation," Selanne wrote (though, to be fair, the Players' Association is thought to be taking a more active role in the obstruction).
Either way, he's right. The league and PA wouldn't block WADA unless they were concerned about possible embarrassment. And they wouldn't be worried about embarrassment unless they knew there was something to worry about.
And there probably is, if you do the math. With so much money on the line, and with the physical demands of the sport so high, it's inconceivable that more players aren't looking for an edge in a pill or a syringe. And yet to this point, the program has only managed to catch a couple of fringe players like Tinordi and Horcoff using PEDs.
It doesn't add up.
And neither does the decision to keep WADA away from the World Cup, where the game's biggest stars will be on display.
"Rigorous testing is the only way to keep sport clean, regardless of the league [in which] the players play," Selanne wrote. "WADA should have the right to test any athlete at any given time."
We've always believed hockey is the clean game. Time for the NHL and NHLPA to do the right thing and let WADA prove it. And not just at the World Cup.