There are different ways of approaching the many problems associated with drug use. The National Hockey League has for a long time tried a forceful, albeit uneven, approach by handing out stiff penalties to players who have become involved with drugs. The NHL points to the apparently small number of its players who have had such problems as evidence that the policy works.

There have been just five suspensions, but many people are troubled that the details of a penalty are set not by any strict policy, but by NHL President John Ziegler.

Then there is the concern that the punishment for the first incident will discourage players from coming forward to get help. By delaying that step, the theory goes, the problem will get worse.

Edmonton goalie Grant Fuhr was the last to be suspended. He played his first game of the season Tuesday night with the Oilers' Cape Breton farm team in the AHL and was a 5-3 winner. He is due to play his first game for the Oilers next Monday against New Jersey in East Rutherford.

"For what they want, it is definitely a deterrent," Fuhr said. "But if you want to set it up to help somebody, that's not the way to do it."

Fuhr will be glad to put the whole suspension issue behind him. Because of injuries, mainly to his shoulder, he played only 26 games last season. While he was gone, Bill Ranford took over and is now entrenched, having won the Conn Smythe Trophy last spring when the Oilers beat the Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals.

"It was good for Billy and I feel good for Billy," Fuhr said. "Boston didn't have as good a team as we had and Billy proved he was a great goalie and will be a great goalie for a long time to come."

Fuhr seems to have been around for so long because he and the Oilers were winning so many Cups, but he turned just 28 last September. He can envision playing another eight to 10 years.

"I've always been my toughest critic, so if I can prove it to myself, then it will be easy to prove it to other people," Fuhr said.

"I think he's going to be great," said teammate Glenn Anderson. "He has a lot to prove, not only to the players and coaches, but more importantly, to himself. He wants to get back to where he was before, which was the best goalie in the world."

Other teams are interested in acquiring Fuhr, but the Oilers have only seven games (including the New Jersey game) before the March 5 NHL trading deadline. He may not have reached his full value by then, so General Manager Glen Sather might wait.

"No rumor is outlandish," Fuhr said. "It does mean people are interested. I've had 10 good years in Edmonton. I would like to stay." An Eye on Johansson

The Detroit power play is the worst in the league. General Manager-Coach Bryan Murray is looking for an offensive defenseman, and the Capitals' Calle Johansson is on his list.

Murray has discussed it with Washington General Manager David Poile. "We talked about a hundred times, but nothing serious, and I'm the guy doing the asking," Murray said. "I asked about him, but at that time he wasn't interested in doing anything."

Poile suggested the other day that the Swede might be playing his best hockey since coming to the Capitals from Buffalo. He already has tied his NHL high for goals (eight), and has 24 assists. Poile said yesterday he's not interested in trading him.. . .

The Minnesota North Stars drew 11,838 for their game against Detroit Saturday night. It was their second-largest crowd of the season. The only game that drew more fans (12,015) was the New Year's Eve meeting with Los Angeles.

"Last year, we had a good record at home {26-12-2}, but we had a lot of problems with management," goalie Jon Casey said. "I don't know if it scared away the fan support. At home, we earned that support. This year, we haven't put many home wins together {12-14-4}, so it's hard to get the fan support back." Wirtz Is a Worker

Ziegler may be president of the league, but there are some who think that Chicago Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz has as much clout as anyone.

"He works harder than anyone else {among owners}," Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Illitch told the Chicago Tribune. "And that's because he cares more than anyone else. He puts the league before the Blackhawks in many cases. He puts in time other owners wouldn't think of putting in.

"He's abreast of all the activity in the league and does a tremendous amount of travel to do a lot of the grunt work others wouldn't consider doing. He's highly respected around the league by owners. And John Ziegler respects him for his loyalty."

As for whether Ziegler answers to him, Illitch said, "That's baloney. John has a mind of his own." . . .

Hartford's Kevin Dineen spent nine days in a hospital recently because of his latest problems with Crohn's Disease, a gastrointestinal condition. For most of his stay, he was given nutrients intravenously. But on the ninth day, he was allowed solid food -- chicken and mashed potatoes.

"It was hospital food and it might have been terrible, but it looked great to me," Dineen said.