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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.

Hughes has potential to take Devils to next level

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

Given all the changes in New Jersey this offseason, there’s no shortage of x-factors heading into the 2019-20 campaign.

One could argue, for instance, that P.K. Subban‘s arrival on the blue line is the biggest change of the offseason. I would disagree and a team that gave up as many goals as the Devils did could use a boost on the backend to take the pressure off their goaltending situation, which is suspect at best heading into the season.

But, in this scribe’s opinion, it’s the arrival of Jack Hughes who has the potential to make the biggest difference.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three questions | Under Pressure]

The Devils need offense, plain and simple. Getting by on a leading point-producer who had just 50 points isn’t going to cut it in the NHL these days.

And while a healthy Taylor Hall will make a big difference as well, we know how big the gap can be between himself and the rest of the scoring on the team (see: 2017-18 season.)

With the potential for a breakout season for Nico Hischier — and one not limited by injuries — the addition of P.K. Subban to the power play and Nikita Gusev and Hughes to the forward contingent, the Devils should be miles ahead of their 25th-ranking in goals-for from last season.

And the expectation is Hughes will play a big role in that. He could start the season as the team’s second-line center and depending on usage, could easily hit the 20-goal mark, if not more.

“Jack’s play will determine to us what he can handle and how much,” coach John Hynes told NHL.com. “We’re not going to put pressure on him and we’re not going to put limits on him right away. We continue to put young players in situations they can handle while also challenging them in the right ways where they can have success but also see how they respond outside their comfort zone.”

Hughes does everything so well. His vision, speed and knack for scoring are all welcome additions to the Devils who sorely need more in each of those areas.

The key will be to find him the right linemates in training camp and let some chemistry develop. If it does, an 80-point season may take shape providing he’s healthy.

And, perhaps, a Calder Trophy for his efforts.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Hischier set to face pressures of contract year

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

The guys at the Spitting Chiclets podcast did an excellent interview last week with Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche.

Why are we talking about MacKinnon on Devils Day at PHT? Just keep reading.

MacKinnon spoke about his sophomore season being a tough one with just 14 goals after winning the Calder Trophy a year before.

It took him two more seasons before he’d flip a switch in his head, one that would take him from a mid-50-point guy to the near-100-point player he’s been for the past two seasons.

MacKinnon said he was starting to feel like he was a bust after being taken first overall in the 2013 NHL Draft.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three questions | X-factor]

Now, I’m not saying that Hischier feels the same way. Both are different players. But both are first-overall picks with a tremendous amount of expectations levied upon them, ones that will last throughout their respective careers.

So if MacKinnon was battling mental demons, one could come to the conclusion that Hischier may do so at some point as well.

Hischier dealt with injury in his second year, much like MacKinnon, and was limited to 17 goals and 47 points — down from the 20 goals and 52 points in his rookie season. That said, his points per game rose in his second campaign even if the overall number didn’t.

And none of this is to say that Hischier has been a bust at all. He’s far from that and an excellent two-way center who, now given some tools around him, a great candidate to have a breakout season.

But the pressure is, nevertheless, going to be there for the Swiss kid. There’s a lot of money waiting on the table for him next offseason when his entry-level deal comes to a close.

Hischier remains a massive piece for the Devils moving forward.

The team now has him and Jack Hughes as their 1-2 punch down the spine of the team, a better defense with the addition of P.K. Subban and a greater supporting cast with Nikita Gusev and Wayne Simmonds.

And while the point totals may not jump off the page, the fact is the Devils outscore opponents and create more high-danger scoring chances when Hischier is on the ice.

Hischier is far from being labeled a bust, much like MacKinnon was.

The pressure is on, however, as he enters a season where a big impact could lead to a bigger contract next summer.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Will Taylor Hall re-sign long-term?

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

Let’s ponder three questions for the 2019-20 Devils:

1. Has all the offseason work enticed Taylor Hall to re-sign?

In early June, a report from The Fourth Period’s David Pagnotta suggested that Hall had no interest in re-signing with the club.

Fast forward a month, and the team that managed just 74 points in a dismal regular season now had Jack Hughes, the top prospect in the 2019 NHL Draft, P.K. Subban, one of the league’s best defensemen, and were about to embark on adding Wayne Simmonds and Nikita Gusev before August hit.

Ray Shero needed to do something to convince Hall that the Devils were heading in the right direction and perhaps it has worked, although there is still no long-term extension in place for the former Hart Trophy winner.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor]

Hall’s agent, for what it’s worth, says there’s no rush. As does Shero.

And while that may be true, these sort of things only become distractions as the regular season hits in 2019-20. The Devils would certainly need to know by the trade deadline so they could avoid a John Tavares incident.

Two first-overall picks in the past three seasons and a genuine attempt to make the team better has to sit well in Hall’s camp. But there’s always going to be that allure of having the world at his feet with truckloads of money and the ability to chose his destination next summer.

2. What role will Mackenzie Blackwood take on this season? 

Cory Schneider went more than a calendar year without a win and he was horrific to start the season, posting a 0-7-2 record before finally getting that elusive ‘W’ in the middle of February.

From there, he went 6-6-2 with a .927 save percentage down the stretch as he finally looked like the goalie sans the hip issue that had plagued him (and was surgically repaired in May 2018.)

Schneider’s injuries and Keith Kinkaid not being very good allowed the Devils a chance to see what Blackwood could do. And 22-year-old didn’t disappoint, even with the mess in front of him.

In 21 starts he went 10-10-0 with a .918 save percentage and two shutouts.

While Schneider appeared to begin his bounceback from surgery in the last half of the season, Blackwood should see increased time (even if the former is making $6 million a season.) Blackwood appears to be the future in New Jersey and the Devils shouldn’t be married to Schneider being their de facto No. 1.

3. What, if anything, will Shero do the rest of his cap space? 

There’s roughly $8 million still sitting in his kitty, although the team still needs to sign restricted free agent Pavel Zacha.

Evolving Wild’s model has Zacha coming in around the $2 million mark in terms of annual average value, which gives the Devils $6 million-ish to work with they want to strengthen the team further.

Of course, the unrestricted free agent pool has shrunk over the summer, but you wonder if a guy such as Patrick Maroon might make for a good addition in terms of grit and experience.

What about a Ben Hutton on defense to make another improvement on the blue line?

There still may be some bargains out there and the Devils appear to have assembled a team worthy of playoff talk.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

It’s New Jersey Devils Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

2018-19
31-41-10, 74 pts. (8th in the Metropolitan Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN
Jack Hughes
P.K. Subban
Wayne Simmonds
Nikita Gusev
Connor Carrick
John Hayden

OUT
Kurtis Gabriel
Brian Boyle
Keith Kinkaid
Ben Lovejoy
Kenny Agostino
Stefan Noesen
Drew Stafford
Eric Gryba
Eddie Lack

RE-SIGNED
Will Butcher
Mirco Mueller

2018-19 season review

Season grade: F
Offseason grade: A+

Yes, it appears it can all change that quickly for some teams.

Much like the Florida Panthers, who I wrote about last week, the New Jersey Devils can rest easy knowing that last season is going to feel like a distant memory after the summer Ray Shero and Co. put together.

The Devils were very bad last season, so bad that, for the second time in the past three seasons, they were rewarded (thanks to a bit of luck) with the first-overall pick back in June.

[MORE: X-factor | Under Pressure | Three questions]

They came into the draft lottery with the third-best odds but moved up to spots for the honor of selecting Jack Hughes.

They then shook up the hockey world, dropping a massive trade bomb on the second day of the draft as they acquired P.K. Subban to fortify their blue line.

Getting Hughes and Subban in the same weekend helped take the sting off a poor season where they couldn’t score much and couldn’t stop the puck a whole lot at the other end of the ice.

Just two players cracked the 20-goal plateau, only one player hit 50 points and their goaltending was abysmal. It didn’t help that Taylor Hall was limited to just 33 games because of injury and then there were the rumors of his long-term future not being in Newark.

Some of those questions still remain, especially between the pipes, but there’s a reason for optimism after such a big summer.

Aside from Hughes and Subban, the Devils also added some grit in Wayne Simmonds. It’s a one-year ‘prove it’ sort of deal that will keep Simmonds hungry as he goes searching for a longer-term deal next offseason.

And they added a player some consider the best who wasn’t playing in the NHL in Nikita Gusev, a former Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick who was then signed by the Golden Knights last year and then traded to New Jersey in July.

A lot of good has happened since the Devils played their final regular-season game of 2018-19. They’ve had to keep up in an arms race across the Hudson River as the New York Rangers took Kaapo Kakko right after New Jersey took Hughes and added Artemi Panarin in free agency and signed Jacob Trouba to a long-term deal.

Either way, gone should be the days where the Devils aren’t considered a perennial playoff contender.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck