Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, believes as many as one-third of the NHL's 700 players may be taking some kind of performance-enhancing drug.
"I spoke with Gary [NHL commissioner Gary Bettman] and he said 'We don't have the problem in hockey,'" Pound said Thursday in an interview with the London Free Press. "I told him he does. You wouldn't be far wrong if you said a third" of hockey players are gaining some pharmaceutical assistance.
Asked if he meant performing-enhancing drugs, Pound replied: "Yes."
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly took exception to Pound's views.
"I would respectfully suggest that Mr. Pound's comments have absolutely no basis in fact," Daly told The Canadian Press. "I find it troubling, to say the least, that he would find it necessary to comment on something he has absolutely no knowledge of.
"Perhaps Mr. Pound would be better served to limit his comments to topics as to which he has knowledge, instead of speculating on matters as to which he has none."
Ted Saskin, executive director of the NHL Players' Association, echoed Daly's sentiments.
"Dick Pound's comments are incredibly irresponsible and have no basis in fact," said Saskin. "He has no knowledge of our sport and our players and frankly has no business making such comments."
Under the terms of the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement, players are subject to a minimum of two drug tests a year without warning. A first-time offender would receive a 20-game suspension. A 60-game suspension would be given to a repeat offender, with a permanent ban for a third offence.
Pound thinks those sanctions do not go far enough.
"The NHL has reached a deal with their players that looks as though they found an early copy of the baseball policy on the floor somewhere," said Pound, a former Canadian Olympic swimmer.
Vancouver Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi also was bothered by Pound's comments.
"Who's Dick Pound?" Bertuzzi said. "Tell him to come in our dressing room with our shirts off and we'll see how performance-enhanced we are. Tell him he can come hang out with me and see my workout.
"Trust me, we're not."
San Jose Sharks defenseman Scott Hannan conceded it's possible some players take performance-enhancing drugs, but suggested Pound's assessment is inaccurate.
"Am I naive in saying that nobody's ever used it or nobody is? Probably," Hannan said. "But as far as extensively, I think that's a baseless comment."
Major League Baseball introduced a new drug policy this past January that mandated a first-time offender be suspended for 10 days.
With U.S. Congress threatening legislation, baseball recently made the penalties stiffer: a 50-game ban for a first offence, 100 games for a second, eventually leading to an outright ban.
As chairman of the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency, Pound is one of the most powerful men in the sports world.
Often outspoken and unapologetic about his views on drug cheats, Pound has been on a personal crusade for years to eradicate drug use by athletes by getting as many sports, international bodies and governments to adopt the World Anti-Doping Code.
Under the WADA Code, international amateur athletes are subject to a two-year ban for their first positive drug test.
In a 2003 interview with CBC Sports Online, Pound talked about the difficulties he was having trying to get Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA and NHL to conform to WADA's global strategy on drug testing.
"The problem is they don't want to admit there's a problem, so I don't see it happening. They're in denial and fans are somewhat apathetic about it all, so there's no incentive for them to get tougher on drugs," Pound said.
"It seems to me that it only becomes a big deal when someone tests positive at the Olympics and is stripped of a medal. Then it becomes a big deal. For pro sports, I just think most fans don't care about how the athletes get there in the first place and just want to see them on the field."
with files from Associated Press