Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman, two Team Canadians since the late 1980s, have opted to pull out of the 2006 Winter Olympics.
It would have been special for the pair of 40-year-old legends to represent Canada, one more time, on the grandest of world stages. But they made the right decision. Lemieux and Yzerman are not the dominating forces they were 15 years ago, or 10 years ago, or even the mere superstars they were four years ago at Salt Lake City.
The argument for taking them to Turin has merit, of course: their experience, hockey sense and leadership can’t be replaced. If they were on a line with sniping wingers such as Jarome Iginla or Martin St-Louis or Simon GagneÂ…well, goals would be scored and memories would be made.
But, Joe Sakic, too, is a wily veteran who can serve as Captain Canada. The Avalanche center, at 36, is showing this season that he still can skate and score with the best of them. And besides, at least half of Canada’s team will be made up of players who participated in the 2002 Games and/or the 2004 World Cup.
Experience is important, yes, but it’s not the only X-factor out there.
Young stars such as Jason Spezza, Eric Staal and Sidney Crosby would bring energy and enthusiasm, not to mention lay a foundation for the next 15 years.
Besides, they’re three of the best players in the NHL this season, period, and their performance commands a trip to Turin.
Dick Pound, who swam for Canada in the 1960 Olympics and was a longtime IOC delegate, is currently the World Anti-Doping Agency boss.
In that capacity, a couple of weeks ago, Pound alleged in an interview that as many as one-third of NHLers use performance-enhancing substances.
Of course, many immediately assumed he meant steroids, and a firestorm of criticism was directed at Pound for making Â“uninformed and damaging comments.Â”
Pound clarified his position a few days later, saying he believed that Â“stimulants,Â” not steroids, were the drug of choice in the NHL.
Pound also is upset with the NHL’s random testing policy, and pointed out that no tests had been conducted yet this season. (The first tests are reportedly planned for January). He basically called the NHL’s drug testing a joke, comparing it to Major League Baseball’s (which Pound has long ridiculed for being toothless).
Under the new CBA, NHLers are subject to a minimum of two drug tests a year without warning. A first-time offender receives a 20-game suspension; 60 games for repeat offenders; and, a permanent ban for a third offence.
That sounds very punishingÂ…unless no tests are being administered.
A couple points on this one. First of all, let’s recognize that Pound is in a thankless position, fighting an uphill fight. Eliminating performance-enhancing drugs isn’t easy, and there’s a lot of non-cooperation. So Pound is going public, calling out leagues and athletes and owners to become more vigilant and more serious in their efforts to rid their sport of cheating substances. He’s agitating those in power, challenging them to change their perceptions and the accepted norms. That’s never easy, especially in the old-school culture of sports.
Does Pound have proof that one-third of NHLers are taking performance-enhancing substances? No, he does not. So, was he wrong to make those comments? No, I don’t think so. This isn’t the kind of fight that can be won by soft-stepping around the issue. Pound has to directly challenge the North American pro sports leagues to clean themselves up; they’ve shown little impetus to do so on their own.
The U.S. Congress took a special interest with steroids and baseball this past year (remember Rafael Â“I Never, Ever Took SteroidsÂ” Palmeiro?), forcing MLB to finally get serious about a drug policy.
Of course, the NHL and players’ union are going to react with disparaging comments. (NHL VP Bill Daly: Â“Perhaps Mr. Pound would be better served to limit his comments to topics as to which he has knowledge, instead of speculating on matters as to which he has none.Â” NHLPA head Ted Saskin: Â“(Pound) has no knowledge of our sport and our players and frankly has no business making such comments.Â”) They’re protecting their league, the bread-and-butter they just spent 18 months fighting over. I doubt that hockey has a steroid problem to the degree that baseball apparently does. But to believe that nobody is taking anything is naÃ¯ve.
Divine Deal for Sharks?
One of Joe Thornton’s many nicknames in Boston was ‘Saint Joe.’ Then he gets traded to San Jose, which translates into, you guessed itÂ…Saint Joe.
Thornton, you may recall, was the first overall draft pick in 1997. After he was traded, only two of the top 20 draft picks from 1997 remain with the club that selected them – Thornton’s new Sharks teammate, Patrick Marleau (second overall), and Thornton’s old Bruins teammate, Sergei Samsonov (eighth overall).
Also noteworthy is the fact the three players Boston received in return for Thornton were all first round picks, too. (Not first overall, mind you, butÂ…)
Defenseman Brad Stuart was the third overall pick in 1998; center Wayne Primeau went 17th in 1994; and, winger Marco Sturm was 21st in 1996.
But none of those new Bruins won NHL offensive-player-of-the-week honors. That went to Thornton, who had two goals and eight points in three games.
More trade/draft minutia: Every No. 1 pick from 1998 through 2005 remains with the club that drafted them. So, too, does 1996 No. 1 pick, Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips. But every No. 1 pick from 1987 through 1995 has been traded away, except for 1988 first overall pick Mike Modano (who moved from Minnesota to Dallas, but is still with the same organization that drafted him).
All the first overall picks from 1987-95 are still playing in the NHL. And, so, too, is the No. 1 pick in 1984 (most of the time, anyway): Mario Lemieux. And he’s being coached by Eddie Olczyk, the third overall draft pick that year.
Mike Danton’s agent, David Frost, resigned as a certified NHLPA agent last week. (Danton is the former St. Louis Blue serving 7-1/2 years in a U.S. prison for attempting to hire a hit man to kill Frost, though Frost denies he was the target).
The move came a few days after the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s Fifth Estate aired an investigative report exploring the bizarre relationship between the two men. It also suggested that Frost was able to become an NHLPA-certified agent because he had an existing relationship with ex-union boss Bob Goodenow (Goodenow’s son once played for a team coached by Frost.)
The more we hear about this story, the more twisted and disturbing it becomes. The Fifth Estate obtained FBI tapes of phone conversations between Frost and Danton from prison. The one-sided, controlling nature of the relationship is clearÂ…frighteningly so. Separating fact from fiction, especially in lurid cases like this, is not easy. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s more – a lot more – to this story. And none of it is good.
For now, we’ll leave it at this: David Frost should not be in a position of power – in a hockey rink or anywhere else – where there are impressionable and/or at-risk kids.
The Portland Penguins? The Kansas City Penguins? The Winnipeg Penguins? Check back in 2007.