The conventional wisdom suggests that hockey doesn't have a problem with performance-enhancing drugs.
"I think overall, it's safe to stay that this is a sport where [PEDs] aren't part of the culture," deputy commissioner Bill Daly said just last summer.
Our naiveté was exposed--again--today when the league suspended Buffalo Sabres forward Zenon Konopka 20 games for violating the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program.
Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the suspension is accompanied by mandatory referral to the NHL/NHLPA Program for Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health for evaluation and possible treatment.
The last NHL player suspended for PED use was defenseman Sean Hill, then of the Minnesota Wild, back in 2007.
Konopka copped to the offense, albeit with the classic "I didn't know" caveat, in a statement issued through the NHLPA:
"I deeply regret that I have tested positive for a prohibited substance in violation of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program," he said."I accept full responsibility for this error. As a professional athlete I am responsible for what I put in my body, and I am to blame for this mistake.
"I want to make it clear that this violation occurred because I ingested a product that can be purchased over-the-counter and which, unknown to me, contained a substance that violated the program. Unfortunately, I did not take the necessary care to ensure that the product did not contain a prohibited substance. I want to stress, however, that I did not take this substance for the purpose of enhancing my athletic performance.
"I apologize to my teammates and to the Buffalo Sabres organization, as well as to my friends and family. I have learned a great deal from this experience, something I hope to be able to share with younger players. I will accept this suspension and continue to work hard to prepare for the 2014-15 season."
Konopka's contract expires at the conclusion of the season, so there's no guarantee that there will even be a 2014-15 for him. The market isn't buzzing for a 33-year-old fourth line center coming off a one-goal, three-point season, even if he is decent on the draw and handy with his fists. Adding a drug strike won't help his marketability.
It would have been nice if he'd identified the mysterious OTC product he used, not only to help clear his name but to steer others away from the potential hazard. If Konopka does find a new gig in the NHL, his suspension would be served at the beginning of that contract.