NHL suspends Nate Schmidt 20 games; Golden Knights ‘strongly disagree’

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Last season bordered on magical for Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt. The 2018-19 season may feel more like a nightmare, at least to start.

The NHL rendered an eyebrow-raising verdict on Sunday, handing Schmidt a 20-game suspension -without pay – for violating the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program.

Such a suspension also includes a mandatory referral to the NHL/NHLPA Program for Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health “for evaluation and possible treatment.”

The NHL didn’t detail the substance Schmidt tested positive for.

If the league suspending Schmidt for almost a quarter of the season doesn’t blow your mind enough, the responses from the team and player should do the trick.

The Golden Knights noted “a trace amount” of whatever substance, and that they didn’t agree with the suspension:

“We were notified that the NHL has suspended Nate Schmidt for violating the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program. While we respect the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program and are committed to its success, we strongly disagree with the suspension. We firmly believe that the presence of a trace of the banned substance was accidental and unintentional. Based on our conversations with Nate, analysis from independent medical experts and sworn testimony from the parties involved, we believe it is clear Nate was not able to reasonably ascertain how the substance entered his body.

Nate is an honest person with high moral character and great integrity. We will stand by him and support him during this time.”

While that felt a little bit soaked in PR-speak (though still strongly-worded by those terms), Schmidt’s statement almost demands a gasp.

[MORE: Looking back at the suspensions for Horcoff, Konopoka, and Tinordi.]

The full release will be listed in a moment, but grab your popcorn and enjoy a few selected highlights (for those of you whose eyes might glaze over during a longer reading session?):

  • Early in the statement, Schmidt notes how surreal it is for him, not to mention all of us, adding that “I have only used supplements provided by my NHL team and I have always been extremely careful about what I put into my body.”
  • He went to essentially get second and third opinions, which led him to state that the “7 billionths of a milligram/mL” of the mystery substance was compared by an expert to “the equivalent of a pinch of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.” Wow.
  • Most simply, Schmidt wrote that “I do not agree with the suspension and will not be labeled a cheater.”
  • It appears, then, that Schmidt lost his appeal.

OK, here’s the full statement:

“I am extremely disappointed to learn that I have been suspended for a violation of the NHL/ NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program. The fact that I’m issuing this statement is surreal to me as I have only used supplements provided by my NHL team and I have always been extremely careful about what I put into my body. Throughout my playing career I have been tested numerous times, including twice last season, and I have never before tested positive. It was utterly shocking to be informed that I tested positive for a microscopic amount of a tainted substance. Not only did I not intentionally take a banned substance, I could not have received any performance enhancement benefit from the trace amount that inadvertently got into my system at a level that was far too small to have any effect. This low amount was consistent with environmental contamination that I could not possibly have prevented.

One of the experts in environmental contamination who testified on my behalf at the Appeal hearing described the amount of the substance found in my system – 7 billionths of a milligram/mL – as the equivalent of a pinch of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Another expert analyzed a sample of my hair and concluded there was no evidence of intentional use. The Vegas Golden Knights track players’ strength and performance metrics and my results have remained constant over the past year.

While I support having a strong Performance Enhancing Substances Program in place for our sport, it is difficult to accept this suspension. I understand that I will miss these games, but I do not agree with the suspension and I will not accept being labelled a cheater.

I have worked my whole life to become an NHL player, and I’m extremely proud to be a player in the NHL. I have never cut corners in order to achieve this goal. I am grateful for the support of the entire Golden Knights organization and I can’t put into words how disappointed I am that I will not be on the ice at the beginning of the season to help my teammates work towards another Stanley Cup run.”

In every single case, the NHL, Golden Knights, and Schmidt noted that there would be no further statements.

There’s also this from Schmidt’s agent:

Staggering stuff. Testing violations simply don’t happen very often in the NHL, for whatever reason, with three names coming to mind: Shawn Horcoff, Zenon Konopka, and Jarred Tinordi. Schmidt, 27, is set to enter a contract year in 2018-19, carrying a $2.25 million cap hit and $2.3M salary, via Cap Friendly.

Cap Friendly also notes that the actual pay situation is a bit more complicated.

The Golden Knights are losing a huge part of what made their Cinderella season work. Schmidt generated 36 points in 2017-18, more than doubling his previous career-high. He logged 22:14 TOI per game during the regular season, only to see his duties expand during Vegas’ run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, averaging 24:25 minutes per night. Schmidt topped Golden Knights skaters in average ice time in both the regular season and postseason.

Next season seemed like an opportunity for Schmidt to cement his place as a go-to defenseman, and earn a raise from his current bargain rate. To put things mildly, that situation is now far from settled.

MORE: How will Schmidt suspension affect Vegas Golden Knights?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.