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Fuhr suspended for a year

TORONTO -- Edmonton Oilers goaltender Grant Fuhr Thursday was suspended without pay one year by NHL President John Ziegler for abusing cocaine from 1983 to 1989.

The decision followed a hearing with Zielger Sept. 26 in which Fuhr's seven-year battle with cocaine and its causes were presented by attorney Richard Rand. Fuhr admitted his drug problem in an interview with the Edmonton Journal, Aug. 31. He said he has been drug-free since spending two weeks in a drug treatment center in Florida, during August of 1989.

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Fuhr has the right to appeal the suspension by notifying Ziegler in writing between Jan. 15, 1991 and Feb. 1.

If, in Ziegler's estimation the goaltender has 'conducted himself in a manner so as not to have caused dishonor or prejudice to the league,' the suspension could be lifted on Feb. 18.

Fuhr will be allowed to practice with the team during the term of the suspension. He was at his home in Edmonton but unavailable for comment.

Ziegler issued a 10-page release detailing his decision, which he based on his ruling against New York Ranger Don Murdoch in 1978. That decision, in which Murdoch was suspended 40 games for abusing cocaine, has been used as the outline of the NHL's drug policy.

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Ziegler said in the statement that Fuhr's continued drug use contributed to his deciding on the year's suspension.

'I have also considered that his conduct went on for a period of six to seven years it went on in spite of a clear league policy that if you useillegal drugs you will be suspended,' Ziegler said in the statement. 'Mr. Fuhr's actions were intentional and were in defiance of this policy. He must suffer the consequences.'

Fuhr won the 1988 Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender, but was limited to 21 games last year due to an appendectomy and shoulder surgery. He was the starting goaltender on the the Oilers' four Stanley Cup champion teams in the 1980's.

Oiler's General Manager Glen Sather said he was surprised at the severity of the ruling by Ziegler, but admitted there's nothing the team can do.

'We don't agree with it and we think it was much too harsh, but that's his decision and that's what we have to deal with,' Sather said. 'There is an appeal process that we can take to the Board of Governors, but I think anytime that you get involved with appealing the president's decision you're going to find the Board of Governors is going to back it and it's just a waste of time.'

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Fuhr is the fifth NHL player to be suspended for drug use. But the NHL's drug program has been criticized as inconsistent and lacking rehabilitation provisions.

Murdoch was arrested for cocaine possession in 1977, fined $400 and suspended for one year, later cut to 40 games. Ric Nattress of the Montreal Canadiens was convicted of drug possession in 1983 and fined $150. He was also suspended for one year, later reduced to 30 games.

Toronto Maple Leaf Borje Salming admitted earlier cocaine use in a 1986 interview, and received an eight-game suspension and $500 fine. Bob Probert of the Detroit Red Wings was expelled from the NHL on March 4, 1989, two days after being charged with importing 14.3 grams of cocaine into the U.S. But he was reinstated in 1990 after serving 90 days in a U.S. prison.

Oilers center Craig MacTavish said the ruling will scare off other players who might want to come forward and receive help.

'I mean really, what was Grant guilty of?' he said. 'He was guilty of having a problem, and he was trying to remedy that problem. If that's a cause for suspension, what kind of message does that send to the rest of the league -- if you've got a problem, don't seek help, just continue to do it quietly and you'll be able to play hockey.'

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