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Without specifics, PED busts of Golden Knights all the same

Updated October 17, 2019 - 8:58 pm

This is what the Golden Knights want you to believe: That the 20-game suspensions for the use of performance enhancing drugs imposed on Nate Schmidt last season and Valentin Zykov on Thursday are indisputably different in every way.

That one (Schmidt) was caught for what the organization says was an accidental or involuntary occurrence and the other (Zykov) knowingly used a banned substance.

This is what you have every right to believe: Absolutely none of it. Until the NHL doesn’t offer what is unquestionably the worst drug-testing program of the four major league professional sports, the notion anyone not living within the circle of secrecy should trust one word from those involved is both arrogant and ignorant.

Until a level of transparency in a drug program where none exists finally tells us exactly what a player tests for and at what levels. Until it tells us the date on which a player was tested and how often, we can only be sure of one thing: Schmidt and Zykov were each popped for PEDs.

At best, it’s an awful look for the franchise, given that since the current Collective Bargaining Agreement was ratified in 2013, there have been six players suspended for PEDs and the Knights — in just a third year of existence — have two of them.

That’s 33.3 percent.

That’s not good, no matter if you’re signing your best defender (Schmidt) to a long-term contract extension during his suspension or summarily throwing a third-line winger (Zykov) who hasn’t played all that well under a Knights-themed bus.

At worst, the team has a doping problem.

Or at least a doping education one.

Here’s a major flaw with drug testing in pro sports: You can’t police and promote at the same time. You can’t play both sides of the needle.

Look, there is zero incentive to deter drug use. You don’t think teams in all sports want these guys using and, in turn, gaining the competitive advantages that comes with it? Come on.

But then someone like Zykov, obviously not a front-line player, tests positive and the organizational response is to give the impression that it’s tough on drugs.

Which, short of an independent testing program, carries zero credibility.

For every positive test, be sure five times that many athletes across a given sport are doping. Only two percent of users in the Olympics are caught and that’s through a program run by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, still the gold standard and yet hardly flawless.

Let’s assume what Knights president of hockey operations George McPhee said on Thursday is true, that Zykov told him he had used such supplements for four years.

And he just got caught?

How much of an indictment is that on a testing program when you consider the player was drafted in 2013, made his NHL debut in 2017 and has played 40 career games?

But, again, this is a league that conducts just one teamwide test annually and has a mandatory maximum of 60 off-season tests in a league of 700-plus players. For all we know, which is nothing, this is the first time Zykov had been tested.

Makes sense now

I suppose we now know why Knights coaches and players were constantly complimenting the conditioning and strength of Zykov throughout training camp. They couldn’t stop talking about how good he looked.

Now, given how fast his locker was cleared out (name plate and all) following the announcement of his positive test, you would think he hailed from the NBA’s favorite country of communist China.

I mean, he was here and then … just gone.

Zykov is actually Russian, a product of a sports system whose doping is rampant. So it’s not a stretch to think he absolutely knew what he was ingesting.

He denied it Thursday. McPhee said otherwise. I’m not sure that part matters.

I’m also not sure McPhee or the team care what you believe and am certain a majority of fans, long ago having drowned in a bizarre basin of love and adoration for anything Golden Knights, could care less about any of this.

But anyone with an unbiased view, inside and outside the market, can and will now fairly question any on-ice success that two-plus seasons has produced.

That’s what two positive PED tests in a year — along with no explanation of specifics about them — gets you.

More importantly, that’s what you have earned.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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