An ESPN in-depth story on the Los Angeles Kings' reflections about their disappointing fall from Stanley Cup winners to playoff missers in 2014-15 covered a wide range of localized topics with the team. But one area of alarm that applies to the broader NHL is this: It's apparently not very hard for an NHL player to use cocaine as part of his summer training.
The entry point for this topic was the post-season arrest of Kings player Jarret Stoll in Las Vegas, accused of having a significant amount of cocaine and MDMA (something like "Ecstasy") on his person. (On his swim trunks, actually. Quite the pool party.)
But Katie Strang's reporting on that aspect of the story opens up deeper questions about drug use in the NHL. The league feels that it has a handle on testing and catching performance-enhancing drug use. But evidently both the league and union evidently are "increasingly" worried about recreational kinds of drug abuse. From the ESPN story:
Stoll's arrest, however, has brought attention to a problem with which the NHL and the NHLPA are becoming increasingly concerned.
Multiple sources within the league told ESPN.com that there is concern about cocaine use being on the rise, and it makes sense why that is a legitimate fear.
Beyond the obvious reasons -- young players thrust into lavish lifestyles with plenty of money to burn and temptations at every turn -- there are other factors.
One of those factors, Strang explains, is that it's not actively tested. Another is that it's not easily detected even in off-season drug-testing:
...generally speaking, cocaine filters out of the system in two to four days, making it relatively easy to avoid a flag in standard urine tests.
The NHL-NHLPA's joint drug-testing program does not test for recreational drugs like cocaine or marijuana. The Performance Enhancing Substances Program is put into place to do exactly that -- screen for performance-enhancing drugs.
The NHLPA administers extra testing on one-third of tests that screen for recreational drugs, a source confirmed.
Worse, even if a player is somehow caught using recreational drugs via the one-third of performance-enhancing drug samples that are further screened, virtually nothing is done:
But even if a player tests positive, it would not trigger a suspension. In fact, it would not even trigger a visit from the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program doctors unless a result "shows a dangerously high level for a drug of abuse such that it causes concern for the health or safety of the player or others," according to the CBA.
Since drug testing is a level of literally personal invasion that warrants making it a CBA-negotiable issue, it's understandable that the NHLPA has eased into allowing it. But clearly this aspect has fallen through the cracks. And NHL history shows (Bob Probert here, John Kordic there) it's not something they want to let get away from them.
So it's good to hear both the league and union have it on their radar. Granted, at least one recreational drug has become, ahem, tolerated in a growing number of states. But the stuff Stoll was caught with is nowhere near becoming decriminalized or legal anywhere the NHL calls home.
In the ESPN story, Kings GM Dean Lombardi sounds agonized by Stoll's "betrayal," while captain Dustin Brown emphasizes that age-old hockey trope that many player conduct issues are handled "in the room" well before the public, or the authorities, would ever become aware of it.
Obviously, preventing off-season cocaine binges will require a bit more than that.