Capitals claim steroid tale without merit; NHL investigates

The Washington Capitals organization had been giving "no comments" throughout the morning about allegations from an alleged steroid kingpin that he sold performance enhancing drugs to one or more players. But both the team and the NHL have issued statements today about this breaking story.

Police in Polk County Florida arrested Richard Thomas and his wife Sandra, snagging an estimated $200,000 in illegal steroids in the bust. They held a press conference late last night to address the arrests and a major detail Thomas had relayed on multiple occasions to authorities: His claim that he supplied members of the Washington Capitals and MLB's Washington Nationals with steroids.

Dick Patrick, Washington Capitals president, issued this rebuttal this afternoon:

"We have no reason to believe there is any merit to this story, but the National Hockey League and the Washington Capitals take all such allegations seriously. Capitals players have fully participated in the NHL's random drug testing program, and at no point has a Capitals player tested positive. In addition our players have been tested at international events, such as World Championships and Olympics. We welcome and will fully cooperate with the NHL's investigation."

In the other part of the joint statement, Bill Daly, NHL deputy commissioner, released the following:

"The Washington Capitals have no knowledge of any aspect of this allegation. Capitals players were subjected to no-notice testing three times in each of the past two seasons pursuant to the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and there was no indication of any improper conduct or wrongdoing.

"Even though there are no specifics provided in the story and we have no reason, at this point, to believe the allegations are true, the National Hockey League takes all matters of this nature very seriously and will conduct a prompt investigation."

Coming up, the Capitals' rep with the NHLPA spoke about the story from the players' perspective:

The Washington Post's Capitals Insider has been doing a great job collecting reactions from Capitals players, including a radio interview Donald Brashear did locally in which he said:

On the chance that any of his teammates have used performance-enhancing drugs: "I would really doubt it. I mean, I would really doubt it. I don't know. It's a tough position; it's hard to say, I mean, maybe there is and we don't know the ones that are doing it. They wouldn't necessarily tell us."

Meanwhile, Brooks Laich, the NHL Players' Association representative for the team, addressed the allegations:

As far we know it's just speculation. The guy didn't say if it was 10 years ago that he sold to the Capitals. Whether it was five ago that he sold. We have no idea. I've already been in touch with our players, and there's nothing on our side to report.

Laich said the dealer "threw a name out there" without any detail, which is accurate as of this afternoon. There was also this exchange with Capitals Insider:

Q: People always say that steroids are not prevalent in hockey. Do you buy that?

A: I can honestly say, I have never seen a trace of steroids, from bantam to midget to junior to here. I have never heard of a guy take a steroid, and I've never seen a guy take a steroid.

If someone was doing it, he would come in at the end of the summer looking huge. And you would have already written a story about it, 'Jeez, he looks great. Look how big and fast he is.' But by midseason, he would have shrunk down again because we have testing. There hasn't been any of that. So as far as I'm concerned, it's just a rumor and it doesn't concern any of our present guys.

See, this is where denials get a little dicey. Steroids aren't all about bulk. Just because a player doesn't look like Barry Bonds after the summer doesn't mean he's clean. Steroids can also be used to speed up recovery time from injuries.

Say, that's not something a hockey player would be interested in, is it?

It's also a little hard to stomach rampant denials from anyone in the NHL when there's no testing during the season's most arduous, grinding stretch: the playoffs.

That's not to say we believe steroids are prevalent in the NHL. Every player we've spoken to, every "hockey person" we've read, claims they aren't part of the culture. As opposed to Jeff Blair of the Globe & Mail, who slightly differs with that view:

No sport has come under less scrutiny for PED use than the NHL, mostly because nobody in the U.S. Congress follows hockey or knows who Gary Bettman is and mostly because the cadre of hockey analysts who are ex-players, coaches or general managers act like gate-keepers, preferring to drop juvenile nicknames on each other than speak truths. They subscribe to the Don Cherry theory that no hockey player has ever broken the law, smoked some grass, or fiddled around with HGH. Hockey people live in a land where everybody's a "good Kingston boy," and likes nothing more than pounding some Molson's (Labatt's is too high-brow and don't get us started on those pansy European beers ... although the Czech beers are OK because Czechs play hockey.) If any of them found themselves in trouble? Aw, heck. They were just having some good clean fun.

Which is why it will be fun to see how the NHL turtles in response to a report out of Central Florida that a man is claiming he's sold steroids to members of the Washington Capitals and Nationals.

Well, the NHL hasn't "turtled." And we tend to agree with Laich that a dude who just basically saw his life end at the hands of police will say anything and everything, even if it lacks specifics or a time-stamp.

Not saying Thomas's claims aren't valid; just skeptical of their timeliness and scope.

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