MONTREAL — Since he became president of the National Hockey League almost eight years ago, John Ziegler has claimed that there is minimal use of drugs in hockey, compared to other pro sports. But because the league didn't have a drug-testing program, there was no way of knowing how clean the NHL actually was.
Now, however, Ziegler and Alan Eagleson, executive director of the NHL Players Assn., say they will recommend that the league institute a mandatory drug-testing program for players next season.
They made the announcement Wednesday during a press conference here, the current site of the Stanley Cup final between the Montreal Canadiens and the Calgary Flames.
The proposal requires approval from the NHL owners and players, who are to meet in Toronto on June 10 to begin negotiating a new collective-bargaining agreement. The current agreement will expire before the start of training camp in September.
The details of the drug program have not been worked out. But Ziegler and Eagleson said they are confident that some form of drug testing will be approved by the owners and players.
"There may be some resistance to it, but I think it will be accepted in some form by the players," Eagleson said. He added that it must be approved by a majority of the membership of the players' association.
In the past, Ziegler has taken a hard line against the use of illegal drugs by players. Under the drug-testing program, he says, any NHL players who test positive for an illegal substance will be severely punished. No rehabilitation program is currently being discussed, he said.
In 1978, Ziegler suspended Don Murdoch of the New York Rangers for 40 games after Murdoch was convicted of possessing cocaine. In 1982-83, Ric Nattress, then with Montreal and currently with St. Louis, was suspended for 30 games after being convicted of marijuana possession.
Wednesday's announcement, made during Ziegler's annual state-of-the-NHL address, was an apparent reaction to recently published reports in Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News of cocaine problems involving five players on the Edmonton Oilers, the defending league champions. The players were not named.
Further, the Toronto Star reported that Borje Salming of the Toronto Maple Leafs admitted that he used cocaine five or six years ago.
"The NHL and NHLPA are fearful that there may be a continuation of this labeling of all NHL players with guilt by innuendo," Ziegler and Eagleson said in a prepared statement.
"Since certain members of the press have chosen to adopt the tactics of the McCarthyism era and are seeking to place suspicion of illegal drug use on all 500 NHL players, we have decided to take steps to make sure that the innocent are protected from this horrendous practice."
Ziegler said he doesn't plan to conduct an investigation into alleged cocaine use on the Oilers.
"I have no evidence to support it," Ziegler said.
However, he said the league will look into the report that Salming used cocaine.
Right wing Colin Paterson of the Flames will miss tonight's fourth game of the Stanley Cup final because he has been hospitalized with the flu. . . . Montreal has won the last two games of the best-of-seven series after losing the opener. . . . Calgary right wing Joey Mullen, who had to be carried off the ice after suffering a neck injury in the third game of the series Tuesday night, has been given medical clearance to play tonight. Mullen jammed his neck when he was checked into the boards by Montreal defenseman Gaston Gingras. . . . Boston left wing Charlie Simmer, a former King, was presented with the Masterton Award at the Stanley Cup luncheon Wednesday. The award, which is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Assn., goes to the player who displays the best sportsmanship. . . . Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers was named the Chrysler/Dodge Player of the Year. Gretzky didn't attend the luncheon, but he videotaped a message for the crowd at the Montreal Convention Center. . . . Defenseman Mark Howe of the Philadelphia Flyers won the Emery Edge Award for having the best plus-minus mark. Howe's father, former NHL great Gordie Howe, presented him with the award. . . . Philadelphia goalies Bob Froese and Darren Jensen won the Jennings Trophy for having the best goals-against average.