Inquirer Daily News
Broken bones sapping NHL's star power

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - You see a lot of sports drinks floating around NHL locker rooms, but with the amount of broken bones suffered so far this season, perhaps teams should make milk readily available as well.

More than a handful of NHL stars have been shelved in recent weeks thanks to a rash of broken bones. The biggest name on that list joined the ranks of the wounded this week as Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk learned that he will miss the next three-to-five weeks with a broken bone in his right foot.

The Boston Bruins were also hit hard as two of their top forwards - Marc Savard (broken foot) and Milan Lucic (broken finger) - will miss four-to-six weeks.

Add in Carolina forward Erik Cole (leg), Vancouver winger Daniel Sedin (foot), New Jersey defenseman Paul Martin (arm) and Pittsburgh blueliner Sergei Gonchar (wrist) and there is pretty much a bone-breaking epidemic happening in the NHL this season.

Ilya Kovalchuk will be out for 3-5 weeks with a broken bone in his right foot.
It's disheartening to see a group of talented players go down so early in the season with these injuries. Especially for a franchise like Atlanta, which relies heavily on Kovalchuk not only for scoring, but also to generate interest in its franchise. The Thrashers aren't a big draw in Atlanta with the speedy Russian on the ice. Without him, expect interest in the club to flatline.

One interesting question to ponder is whether or not these injuries are a coincidence, or if there is a more sinister reason as to why players bones are breaking. I'm talking about the use of steroids, a word which rarely gets spoken about in the NHL world.

Not to cast aspersions on the specific players mentioned above, but there are plenty of folks in the medical field who believe steroid use can increase the chances of broken bones. With the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs in other sports, it would be silly not to at least ponder the possible role steroids play in the NHL.

It always seems odd that the NHL gets a free pass on steroids when so much of the game is about strength and speed. If steroids could help Jose Canseco double his body mass and transform him from a skinny 15th-round draft pick to a home-run basher who can still steal bases, why wouldn't hockey players consider using PEDs?

One thing the NHL does have going in its favor when it comes to making a case for the league's steroid innocence is that many players are subjected to drug testing in order to skate in the Winter Olympics. Bryan Berard was caught taking PEDs by that system prior to the Torino Games, and it will be interesting to see if anybody gets nabbed in the run-up to Vancouver 2010.

Maybe this is a case of barking up the wrong tree and there really isn't a problem with steroids in the NHL. As NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said a few years ago, "It's simply not part of their (hockey players) culture."

That may be so, but the important thing is that the NHL doesn't simply assume that fact. The best course of action is to assume that it is a problem, or else the league runs the risk of being blindsided by the issue just like Major League Baseball was.

SWINE FLU HITS THE NHL

Another potential problem for the NHL in keeping players off the ice, one that definitely has nothing to do with steroids, is the recent outbreak of swine flu throughout the league.

On Tuesday, Colorado goaltender Peter Budaj was revealed to have been diagnosed with the illness and, in a span of less than 24 hours, Edmonton defenseman Ladislav Smid and Washington forward Quintin Laing joined the list.

Hopefully that will be the end of it as far as the NHL is concerned, but that doesn't seem likely. No matter how sanitary a team's locker room is, there is still no way of keeping that area from being a virtual petri dish of germs.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.
Dan Di Sciullo