WADA hopes talks lead to improved drug testing

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said it hopes to have more talks with the National Hockey League (NHL) before the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs in June about building the framework for an improved drug-testing program.

"We have had, what I would describe as, pretty useful discussions not just with the NHL but with the players association," said WADA director general David Howman. "Everyone around the table at the same time.

"We are hopeful we can have another meeting with them either before the Stanley Cup playoffs or at least after them so that we can help them further."

With Major League Baseball, the National Football League and National Basketball Association having introduced tougher testing last year, including promises to begin blood tests for human growth hormone, the NHL is under pressure to follow suit as it prepares to begin negotiations on a new labor deal with the current agreement set to expire on September 15.

With no out-of-competition testing, the NHL's anti-doping program is considered the weakest of the big four North American professional sports leagues.

Every NHL player is subject to up to three random tests each campaign between the start of training camp and the end of the regular season.

Once viewed as nothing more than a meddlesome out-of-touch organisation, WADA was invited to be part of last month's All-Star Game festivities in Ottawa, where the agency's "Say No to Doping" campaign was played on arena scoreboards.

The NHL and WADA have been engaged in quiet talks for several years but the pace has picked up and on one occasion included a representative from the players union.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)