Commentary

The NHLPA's golden opportunity

Updated: August 3, 2007, 6:58 PM ET
By Adam Proteau | The Hockey News

Salvaging a sullied image is one mother of a mission. It matters not whether you're Mariah Carey post-breakdown, R. Kelly post-shakedown, or Hugh Grant post-Divine Brown. Thanks to the omnipotent powers of the internet and the undeniable joys of schadenfreude, your moments of weakness and wretched strategies never will be too far from memory.

The same holds true at the NHL Players' Association, where they're still attempting to recover from the most public whooping since boxing legend Larry Holmes leapt off the roof of a car and dropkicked onetime opponent Trevor Berbick in 1991.

For the first time in a very long time, the NHLPA is going about its business the proper way. They've hired a consulting firm to help them replace disgraced former director Ted Saskin (who, of course, replaced disgraced former director Bob Goodenow, who, of course, replaced disgraced former director Alan Eagleson) and they're making sincere efforts to include and immerse the rank-and-file in their business operations.

Finally, it seems, an entity that had earned its reputation as one man's personal fiefdom is evolving into a genuine players' union. However, given the gruesome, extended PR beating NHLers have taken over the past half-decade or so, the road to redemption is a long one. Therefore, they need every ounce of help they can corral to return to the days when players were seen as fortunate, forceful extensions of the common man.

And right now, they're missing out on a golden chance to do just that.

Said chance comes in the ugly form of a witch's brew of despicable scandals that has rained down and stained nearly every sport but hockey. A quick recap of the recently (and allegedly) breached taboos includes dog-fighting, crooked officials and steroids; it's as if the entire sports world has been turned into a Fantasy Weekend at Hell's Angels Camp.

But one man's ordeal is another's opportunity, and this is where the NHLPA could conceivably swoop in and bolster both its credibility and popularity among the masses.

Imagine, if you will, a press conference with the current NHLPA leadership assembled near the podium. Then imagine one of the players -- say, Eric Lindros or Robyn Regehr -- stepping to the microphone and making a speech like this:

Beginning today, the NHLPA is rededicating its commitment to the sport of hockey and to the fans who support the game. In doing so, we're taking measures no professional athlete union has taken before.

Firstly, we're instituting our own program to test for steroids, human growth hormone and other performance-enhancing drugs. Our members have agreed to random, multiple blood and urine tests; the program will be implemented by an independent firm, and testing will occur throughout the regular season, playoffs, and off-season. Penalties for those members who breach the boundaries set out will be severe and leveled swiftly.

In addition, we are taking the necessary steps to make visors mandatory for all players entering the NHL, and will work to eliminate the type of headshots that have shortened the careers of some of our members, to create a safer work environment.

In sum, we are making ourselves fully accountable to those who pay to watch us play, and sincerely hope all professional athletes follow our example.

Now, I realize the degree of disbelief you need to suspend for the above scenario to sound remotely feasible. The NHLPA has made a tradition out of burying its head in the sands of libertarian philosophies, so the odds of a complete about-face do not inspire me to wager my meager earnings on such an occurrence.

Still, the players can't afford to sit back and wait for team owners to take the type of action that should prevent over-the-top scandals from besmirching the NHL. After all, the owners are a group that agreed to make the marketing of individual players a top priority, yet when thousands of observers pointed out the league's cockamamie excuse for a schedule undermined that effort, most of the multi-millionaires merely shrugged and returned to examining their profit margins.

Unfortunately, and not for the first time, the burden of affecting great change falls squarely on the players' shoulders.

If they wish to return to the land of the respected, a little elbow grease, and a lot of humility and sacrifice, makes up the best pistons to power them there.

Adam Proteau's Screen Shots appears every Thursday only on thehockeynews.com. Want to take a shot at Adam Proteau? You can reach him at aproteau@thehockeynews.com or through out Ask Adam feature. And be sure to check out Proteau's Blog for daily insight on the world of hockey.

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