Looks like the NHL is moving under the steroid spotlight

“Either the NHL is a freak show of incredibly clean proportions or the drug testing isn’t working.”

Since he first gained national attention with a slew of articles in Canadian magazines and a heap of praise from Wayne Gretzky at the age of 15, there has been more proverbial ink spilled about Sidney Crosby than any other hockey player in his time.

We know all the lore, the stories. We’ve all been there to watch him pile up the hardware — trophies, cups and medals. We’ve seen him turn people into pieces of hockey trivia and watched him fire pucks into a dryer on the Jay Leno Show.

But there are still a few things about Sidney Crosby that I’d like to know, things that are just out there. Some have answers, some obviously don’t but there are still issues and events around Crosby that I’ve always wondered about.

This blog was supposed to coincide with what we thought was going to be his return to hockey Friday night against Dallas but that ain’t happening. This blog was originally crafted as a welcome back, what to expect, what now kind of piece which now makes zero sense (maybe next Tuesday against Colorado?). So, instead, I submit to you questions that, to paraphrase Arsenio Hall and C+C Music Factory, make me go hmmm …

Firstly, and this has no definite answer but how the hell was Crosby able to take a Rimouski Oceanique team to within one win of the Memorial Cup in 2005? We’ve seen players put teams on their shoulders and lead them to success but I think this was one of the most remarkable accomplishments of Crosby’s career.

Normally, when a team makes it to the finals of the Memorial Cup (which is, in my estimation, the most difficult hockey trophy to win) you do it with not only great chemistry and team play but also a roster that boasts future NHLers. And while junior stars like Dany Roussin and Mario Scalzo may have been excellent players in the Q, neither came close to playing in the show. In fact, a quick check of the Rimouski roster in ’05 reveals that only one other player off that team has had even a singular measure of success in the show, and that’s Marc-Antoine Pouliot. Just as a quick exercise, let’s see where the other key members of that Oceanique team are doing now.

Dany Roussin:

Playing in the LNAH (formerly known as the Quebec semi-pro league), which is an end-of-the-road stop for hockey players.

Marc-Antione Pouliot:

Former first-round pick of the Oilers has had cups of coffee with Edmonton and Tampa Bay; currently with Portland of the AHL.

Patrick Coulombe:

Playing with Valeranga in Oslo, Norway.

Zbynek Hrdel:

Rimouski’s Czech import, who scored the big game-winning goal against Halifax in Crosby’s last game ever in Rimouski, is now playing in the Czech Extra Liga for Mlada Boleslav.

Eric Neilson:

Crosby’s muscle and chief protector with Rimouski has bounced around both the ECHL and AHL. He’s currently playing with the Norfolk Admirals. I’ll always remember Neilson’s punch to the face of Corey Perry in the Memorial Cup final that lead to London’s first goal, which killed the Rimouski bench.

Cedrick Desjardins:

After playing in the Montreal organization for three years with the Hamilton Bulldogs, netminder Desjardins followed Rimouski assistant coach Guy Boucher to Tampa where he played in two NHL games. He’s currently playing with the Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL. One forgotten note about Rimouski’s goaltending is the Oceanique had tried to convince Vancouver netminder Cory Schneiderto leave college and join Crosby’s team. He said no.

Mark Tobin:

A former second-round pick of the Lightning, he’s now playing in the LNAH like Roussin.

Francis Charette:

Suiting up for Saguenay in the LNAH.

Danny Stewart:

Also in the LNAH after playing two seasons in the ECHL and another two in England.

Not exactly a stellar lineup post-QMJHL, which speaks to the greatness that Crosby was at the junior level. However, as great as Crosby was, his Oceanique could not handle the London Knights in the final. But that was a team many consider to be one of the greatest junior teams of all time, which boasted a roster that included Perry, Dave Bolland, Robbie Schremp, Dany Syvret, Marc Methot and Brandon Prust(whose job, along with Dylan Hunter, was to shadow Crosby).


The Crosby draft lottery was a stroke of genius by the NHL, and probably the only fair way to decide who picked first overall after a lockout season. Top prize, of course, was Crosby and all 30 teams had a shot at landing the future franchise player. It made for some compelling TV — so much so that I almost think the league should hold a 30-team lottery each year instead of the way they do it now.

Nonetheless, as it came down to two teams: Anaheim and Pittsburgh, the anticipation was high and when the Penguins were announced as the winner of the Crosby sweepstakes, Chicago Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz was heard screaming, “Justice! Justice! Justice!”

I’ve asked people around the league for years what Wirtz meant by that but nobody seems to have an answer. Maybe it’s something the late Hawks owner took to his grave.


Speaking of “justice”, does anyone have any idea what the “Out for Justice” theme the Penguins used as their motto in the playoffs two seasons ago meant?


Ok, here’s something I’ve wrestled with for a few years now and I’m still not clear about: During his first few seasons in the NHL, Crosby was put up by his owner Mario Lemieux. Crosby lodged at the palatial mansion, which is one of the sweetest perks any hockey player can enjoy.

Nice touch by the organization, right? Help the kid come along and have him blend in with one of the greatest players ever to suit up in the league. Sit at the feet of the master, if you will; soak up all the wisdom in the comforts in one of the sweetest homes money can buy.

One problem, though.

How does that not circumvent the Collective Bargaining Agreement?

Under the CBA, it’s illegal for any organization to compensate a player above and beyond the specifications of his contract. We’ve seen Toronto coach Ron Wilson and the Maple Leafs organization fined for the time honoured tradition of putting money on the board for a win against Wilson’s old team, the San Jose Sharks. Players do that all the time and under the CBA that’s fine because the perk is not coming from the organization. But even if he paid rent, how is that not considered a perk above and beyond the entry-level deal Crosby signed?


I’ll write something more about Georges Laraque here on ‘The Sheet’ after I’ve actually read his book, but just a couple of initial thoughts.

About his assertion that the league has a problem with performance enhancing drugs, I don’t know because I don’t live in locker rooms and I’ve never witnessed any hockey player using anything other than a protein shake or branch amino acid drink at the gym.

What I do know is two ex-NHLers (both fighters) who used their entire careers and were never caught — one just finished up playing not that long ago. Does that mean the league has a problem? I don’t know everyone in the league so I can’t say for certain. Laraque would be much closer to it than I am.

I do find odd that the attacks against Georges’ PED claims are of a personal nature with many, if not most, maintaining that he’s only trying to sell books and has no real basis in fact, unless he names names like Jose Canseco did.

Perhaps, but I’m not sure what the difference is between Laraque making allegations based on conversations and experience versus hockey writers who cling to “anonymous sources” for the basis of all their hockey stories. The next time you read a writer demanding that Georges reveal his sources, ask him/her if they’d consider revealing theirs.

My thoughts on steroids in the NHL are summed up by one profound question I ask myself about the league. Since the new policy came into effect coming out of the lockout, there are anywhere between 700-800 players per season who pass through the NHL. And in this environment — which is top of field anywhere across the globe — where millions of dollars are at stake and the margin of error between earning those millions and making a significantly smaller amount in the minors is incredibly slim, only Sean Hill of the Buffalo Sabres (the only player caught) used steroids?

One of two things is possible here: either the NHL is a freak show of incredibly clean proportions or the drug testing isn’t working.

Take your pick.

 

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