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Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby, left, controls the puck in front of Columbus Blue Jackets' Rostislav Klesla, of the Czech Republic, in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010. The Phoenix Coyotes were active again on the NHL's deadline day, acquiring defenceman Rostislav Klesla and minor-leaguer Dane Byers from Columbus for forward Scottie Upshall and defenceman Sami Lepisto. (Paul Vernon)
Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby, left, controls the puck in front of Columbus Blue Jackets' Rostislav Klesla, of the Czech Republic, in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010. The Phoenix Coyotes were active again on the NHL's deadline day, acquiring defenceman Rostislav Klesla and minor-leaguer Dane Byers from Columbus for forward Scottie Upshall and defenceman Sami Lepisto. (Paul Vernon)

JEFF BLAIR

Hockey facing its steroid moment Add to ...

I don't know if it's all down to Prime Minister Stephen Harper or Minister of State for Sports Gary Lunn having Max Pacioretty in the office NHL pool but I do know this: we'll finally find out just how well NHL commissioner Gary Bettman skates.

Bettman escaped from professional sports' steroid scandal because nobody in Congress much cared about him or his league. There was no political or moral hay to be made from the NHL by Rep. Henry Waxman and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, not when Major League Baseball and the NFL were around. Bunch of white guys on skates? Meh, who cares? Let's go get Sammy Sosa's autograph!

This is not to say that you'll see Colie, Murph, Betts or whatever the hell his nickname is dragged in front of some Parliamentary committee, because we don't even know who will be in government two months from now. We have bigger issues, even without getting into the philosophical and legal notions of whether the Canadian government can use anything other than moral suasion to hold a private, cross-border business to account.

But this certainly seems like hockey's steroid moment, doesn't it? That time when other people hold a mirror up to the face of the game and simply say enough with the excuses, it's time to change.

There is no Mark McGwire blubbering or Rafael Palmeiro jabbing his finger and saying, "I have never used steroids. Period." Just Pacioretty lying on the ice motionless. Just Sidney Crosby, wobbling off the ice and onto the couch of his parents' living room.

Nice timing, Donald Fehr. The head of the Major League Baseball Players Association during the Steroid Era, Fehr is now in charge of the NHLPA and his strength has always been as a legal mind and negotiator as opposed to a visionary. While critics saw his role in baseball's steroid scandal as obstructionist, realists understood he was merely doing the work of every good labour representative: giving ground grudgingly, and defending the sanctity of the collective agreement. Fehr's position back then was buttressed by legal concerns about the right to privacy and other nuts-and-bolts stuff. This issue - concussions, head shots, a lack of peer respect - is a little muddier.

But at least the dialogue has started. It might not be enough to prevent an NHL player from maiming or killing another - fingers crossed - but when public outrage over Zdeno Chara's hit on Pacioretty made it onto the floor of The Commons on Wednesday, finally people with titles other than parent or doctor or journalist were telling the NHL that people who care about the game think its product is on far too many nights an embarrassment.

There are those in Parliament, like NDP Sports Critic Glenn Thibeault, who would like to set up a royal commission to examine sports injuries. This is, of course, an eye-roller for the live-and-let-die crowd. It's also quintessentially Canadian, since any such committee will naturally morph into a committee focused on hockey and, well, you don't go there if you're Canadian, do you?

Don't believe me? Ask the former NHL players who needed a U.S. court in Boston to finally bring former NHLPA chief Alan Eagleson to justice. They weren't going to get it on this side of the border.

This is Canada, so the best we can hope for is that the puckheads have had their day; that the powers-that-be in Quebec seriously consider charges against Chara; that Steve Moore's court case against Todd Bertuzzi piles on the pressure and that, ultimately, new leadership emerges. That, and it would sure be nice to see Sidney Crosby on the ice again.

 

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