National Hockey League President John Ziegler said yesterday he is happy with his league's punitive drug policy, which has been a focus of attention since Edmonton goalie Grant Fuhr was suspended last week.
"Our objective is to have no player in the NHL involved with illegal drugs," Ziegler said. "The policy to achieve that objective is to let everybody know up front that if you're involved with illegal drugs you will be suspended. After that, the type of suspension and whether you will be permitted to come back, is left to the discretion of the president, to weigh all the factors in each case. That's the way the policy has been applied for 12 years and it has been supported by the Board of Governors and the players association."
He was at the Marriott Hotel in Greenbelt to speak at the Washington Capitals media day.
Last week, he suspended Fuhr for a year, though Fuhr can apply for readmission during the last two weeks in January. Fuhr admitted to using a "substance" -- his ex-wife told the Edmonton Journal it was cocaine -- in 1983-89. He is the fifth player suspended for a drug-related incident since 1977. The others were Don Murdoch (1977), Ric Nattress (1983), Borje Salming (1986) and Bob Probert (1989).
Some in the NHL are troubled by what they see as an unclear drug policy. The five suspensions have all varied in length and often have been commuted after a shorter penalty period. Ziegler said he likes the policy -- and says the players do as well -- even though it may discourage players from seeking help with a drug problem. The NFL has a three-step policy, in which players get one misstep before suspension.
The NHL does not test players for drugs. Ziegler said he and outgoing head of the players' association Alan Eagleson suggested it a couple years ago, but "the players association almost unanimously rejected it."
The NHL will have a team in the San Francisco Bay area next season and the board of governors is to decide in early December which of 10 aspiring applicants to bring into the league. Some argue the NHL should add two, which would give the league a total of 24. Others say six should be added in 1992-93 to bring it to 28, which is the goal for the year 2000. Miami, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Houston, San Diego (two bids), Milwaukee, Hamilton and Ottawa have each put down a $100,000 deposit on what will be a $50 million purchase.
Ziegler said it would be "inappropriate" to say where the NHL should expand to, without first listening to each bidder's presentation and further studying market analysis. The NHL's three-year, $51 million TV contract with Sports Channel America will expire after this year. Many within the league were upset by the switch from ESPN, but SCA gets first crack at negotiating a new deal and Ziegler said those negotiations are not complete. A better TV deal would be possible with teams in the Sunbelt. Ziegler said some governors will view that as an important factor in expansion.
The collective bargaining agreement with the players' union will expire next summer, and the expectation is that players will push much harder for greater free agency.
"Over the last year, I've heard from the players association that they are unhappy with the present system and cries from different places that they want total free agency," Ziegler said. "Yet with the system we have, we've experienced one of the largest escalations in salaries since the mid '70s. The challenge for all of us at the bargaining table is, if this system isn't working, what system should we have that ensures a fair share for both sides?"
Four teams have trained in the Soviet Union and, while participants enjoyed some of the cultural aspects, other parts were "inconvenient," as Ziegler put it. NHL teams will also need better accommodations.
"This is the biggest revolution in the history of the Soviet people, I think," he said of the changes in that country. "But controls, in some respects, have broken down. Their ability to provide what would be ordinary services, is limited."