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Recalling other NHL suspensions for performance-enhancing substances

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The 20-game suspension of Nate Schmidt isn’t just surprising because of how out-of-left-field it felt, not to mention how much the loss will hurt for the Vegas Golden Knights. It’s also surprising because, frankly, suspensions for performance-enhancing substances don’t really happen that often in the NHL.

Such a notion might prompt some curiosity about the few recent cases where this did happen, though.

Here are three semi-recent cases of the NHL handing out suspensions for violations of “the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program.” If any other examples stand out to you – this is limited to fairly contemporary cases, but feel free to go further back in time – absolutely share such occurrences in the comments.

For more on the Schmidt suspension, click here.

Zenon Konopka (pictured: bottom left)

On May 15, 2014, the NHL announced that Zenon Konopka was suspended 20 games. Much like with Schmidt, the precise substance wasn’t disclosed.

There were some key differences in Konopka’s case, however.

While Schmidt (and his team) release statements disagreeing with the NHL’s verdict, Konopka instead apologized for his failed test, stating that he took “full responsibility for this error.”

That said, Konopka did claim that the substances weren’t really enhancing his performance:

I want to make it clear that this violation occurred because I ingested a product that can be purchased over-the-counter and which, unknown to me, contained a substance that violated the program. Unfortunately, I did not take the necessary care to ensure that the product did not contain a prohibited substance. I want to stress, however, that I did not take this substance for the purpose of enhancing my athletic performance.

Konopka expressed a hope that he would move on to the 2014-15 season, but little seemed to happen after that suspension. He officially retired after signing a one-day contract with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.

It doesn’t appear that things worked out for Konopka, sadly, as hockeydb has no listings beyond 2013-14 (not in the NHL or any other league), the season that concluded before his failed test. Konopka reportedly signed in Poland in 2015, but there aren’t a ton of details about how that worked out. With enforcers on the wane in hockey over recent years (Konopka generated 1,082 penalty minutes, but just 30 points over 346 regular-season NHL games), it’s possible that he was nearing the end of his playing days, anyway.

Either way, not much happened for Konopka following that suspension, which he never technically served.

Shawn Horcoff (pictured: top)

Horcoff received a 20-game suspension on Jan. 26, 2016. The suspension cost him about $357,526.88, according to the NHL.

In a statement regarding the suspension, Horcoff said that he “tried a treatment that I believed would help speed up the healing process,” but was unaware that the treatment “was not permitted under NHL rules.”

Here’s a longer excerpt from that release:

Although I was unaware that this treatment was not permitted under NHL rules, that is no excuse whatsoever. I should have done my research and I should have checked with the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program’s doctors. I accept full responsibility for my actions, and I am sorry.

Horcoff ended up returning to the Anaheim Ducks on March 14 after serving that suspension, generating five assists in 14 remaining regular-season games.

The veteran player ended his career after the 2015-16 season after appearing in 1,008 regular-season games and serving as the captain of the Edmonton Oilers. He’s serving as the Detroit Red Wings’ director of player development and has been with the organization since 2016.

Jarred Tinordi (pictured: bottom right)

Tinordi, 26, joins Nate Schmidt as an active player who’s been suspended 20 games for violating the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program.

Tinordi’s suspension was announced on March 9, 2016. The defenseman stated that he was “extremely disappointed” by the suspension, claiming that he didn’t “knowingly take a banned substance.”

Things got pretty fuzzy around that situation. Tinordi was traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the Arizona Coyotes, with Habs GM Marc Bergevin provided a vague explanation:

“I have a reason that I can’t really tell you why,” said Bergevin, “But if I could, you would probably understand.”

At the time, some believed that Bergevin was discussing John Scott being involved in the trade, but in hindsight, many wondered if he was actually alluding to Tinordi’s suspension. The Arizona Coyotes were “caught by surprise” that Tinordi was suspended, but the NHL’s Bill Daly stated that he had no reason to believe that Montreal “acted inappropriately.”

Whatever the case may be, Tinordi did not play with the Coyotes in another game after that suspension ended. In fact, he hasn’t been able to appear in an NHL game since, as he’s spent the last two seasons playing exclusively in the AHL after being waived following the suspension.

The former first-rounder (22nd overall by Montreal in 2010) is on a two-way contract with the Nashville Predators, which was signed on July 1. Will he ever get to see any NHL action again, even just for a “cup of coffee?” That remains to be seen.

***

As you can see from the recaps above, two of the three players listed (Konopka and Tinordi) haven’t appeared in an NHL game since their suspensions happened/ended. Horcoff saw his career wind down. There are some similarities and differences between their responses and the strongly worded statement Schmidt made about his 20-game suspension.

In all three situations, it’s unclear how much the suspensions factored into their waning NHL opportunities. Yes, Tinordi was a first-rounder, but a struggling one at that. NHL franchises covet experience, but Horcoff was getting long in the tooth. Konopka was an aging enforcer.

So, in a lot of ways, we haven’t really seen many situations like that of Schmidt, who topped Golden Knights skaters in average time on ice during both the regular season and playoffs in 2017-18. It’s somewhere between an unusual and a flat-out unique situation, and we’ll need to wait and see how this situation works out.

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.

Islanders need Varlamov to pick up where Lehner left off

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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 York Islanders.

When the Islanders needed to roll the dice on a goaltender last season, they decided to hand Robin Lehner a one-year, $1.5 million. The deal couldn’t possibly have worked out any better for them, as Lehner ended up being named one of the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy.

The 28-year-old posted a 25-13-5 record with a 2.13 goals-against-average and a .930 save percentage in 46 appearances with the Isles last season. It was, by far, the best year of his career. Of course, he had quite a bit of help. New head coach Barry Trotz used a defense-first system that limited the opposition’s scoring chances. That’s not to say that Lehner’s season wasn’t impressive though.

The Islanders netmider also helped his team sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Unfortunately for them, they were swept in the second round by Carolina Hurricanes. In the end, Lehner finished the postseason with a 4-4 record, a 2.00 goals-against-average and a .936 save percentage.

[MORE: Summary]

As good as he was, Isles general manager Lou Lamoriello wasn’t interested in committing to his goalie long-term. Once free agency opened on July 1st, Lehner signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Isles decided to give Semyon Varlamov a four-year, $20 million contract.

Varlamov’s had his share of struggles over the last few seasons in Colorado. He ended up playing in 49 games last year, but eventually lost his starting job to Philipp Grubauer. The 31-year-old had a 20-19-9 record with a 2.87 goals-against-average and a .909 save percentage last season.

“Even [before last season] when we were looking for goaltenders, he was on the radar for the organization,” Trotz said of Varlamov via NHL.com. “He’s obviously been someone that I think we have a lot of confidence in. With Robin’s [contract] situation, when that didn’t materialize, [Varlamov] was the No. 1 guy that we were going to go after.”

So committing to him for four years is definitely a risky move, but Trotz’s system could help bring out the best in him.

“It’s very hard to play against the teams he’s coaching because of his system,” Varlamov said of Trotz. “Every team playing against a Barry Trotz-coached [team] is going to have a hard time because all the teams he’s coached, they play very well defensively. They play very tight in front of the net.”

There will be plenty of pressure on Varlamov’s shoulders heading into this season. Expectations will be higher for the Islanders this year because they were one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference last season. The beauty of Trotz’s system is that he just needs his goaltender to be solid. Most of the time, he doesn’t need his goalie to steal games. Can Varlamov handle that? Can the Isles replicate the success they had last season?

Varlamov is the biggest change the Isles made to their roster this off-season. If they drop off in 2019-20, a good amount of blame will be placed on his shoulders.

The pressure is definitely on the Russian veteran to provide the team with adequate performances between the pipes.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

It’s New York Islanders 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 York Islanders.

2018-19
48-27-7, 103 points (2nd in the Metropolitan Division, 4th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Eliminated in four games in the second round by the Carolina Hurricanes.

IN:
Semyon Varlamov
Jared Coreau

OUT: 
Robin Lehner
Luca Sbisa
Dennis Seidenberg
Valtteri Filppula

RE-SIGNED: 
Tanner Fritz
Jordan Eberle
Tom Kuhnhackl
Anders Lee
Brock Nelson

2018-19 Summary

Did your team lose the captain/best player on the roster? Do you feel like you have no hope? Well if you’re looking for a reason to be optimistic, look no further than the 2018-19 Islanders. After John Tavares walked to Toronto in free agency, many predicted that the Isles would be one of the bottom-feeders in the NHL. Instead, they ended up being one of the greatest stories of the year.

The Islanders’ top point-getter last season was sophomore forward Mathew Barzal, who picked up 62 points in 82 contests. They had four players hit the 50-point mark (Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee). They also had just three players surpass the 20-goal mark (Lee, Nelson and Casey Cizikas). Despite those limited offensive numbers, the Islanders found a way to finish second in the Metropolitan Division which, again, no one expected.

How did they do it? Structure, structure and more structure.

Bringing in Barry Trotz as head coach proved to be a wise move for a team without an offensive superstar. Trotz’s defensive-minded approach ended up giving the Isles an identity. They weren’t very fun to watch, but they found a way to get the job done on most nights.

They also found a way to sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs before they were swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round.

Now, the question is whether or not they can do it all over again.

“We know other teams will take us maybe more serious than they did last year,” Lamoriello said, per NHL.com. “But that’s where we have to grow and that’s where our character that I have tremendous confidence in comes through, plus the coaching staff that we have.

“This is the first time that a lot of our players have ever gone through the playoffs, first time they experienced success, and then the lack of success in the second round and how it’s approached. You learn by experience. You never know what experience is until you acquire it.”

The Islanders brought back three core players in Eberle, Lee and Nelson. The biggest change will occur between the pipes, as they let Vezina Trophy nominee Robin Lehner hit free agency. Lehner had the best year of his career, as he posted a 25-13-5 record with a 2.13 goals-against-average and a .930 save percentage. Despite those awesome numbers, the organization wasn’t ready to commit to Lehner long term. Clearly, they felt that Trotz’s system helped the veteran netminder succeed (it probably did).

In fairness to the team, no other squad was willing to give Lehner a long-term deal, so he ended signing a one-year, $5 million contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

With him no longer in the picture, Lamoriello had to sign a new starting goaltender. In the end, they settled on former Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov (he inked a four-year, $20 million deal). The 31-year-old has struggled over the last couple of seasons, but playing in Trotz’s system could help revitalize his career like it did for Lehner.

Whether or not he fits in as well as Lehner did remains to be seen.

This whole group proved a lot of people wrong last year. Can they do it again?

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

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Top 20 defensemen; Canucks believe in Benning

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• NHL.com breaks down the Top 20 defensemen in the NHL right now. (NHL.com)

• The Hockey News projects ahead to who the Canucks will protect come the 2021 expansion draft. (The Hockey News)

• The fact that the Canucks are extending Jim Benning shows that they believe in his plan. (Sportsnet)

• How can every team’s jersey be improved? (Puck Prose)

• Can Evan Bouchard crack the Oilers’ defense this year? (Edmonton Journal)

Charlie McAvoy continued developing during a big 2018-19 season. (Stanley Cup Chowder)

• How much can the Predators expect from Dante Fabbro? (Predlines)

• Here’s a list of forwards the Vegas Golden Knights could opt to sign late in the summer. (SinBin.Vegas)

• What would the Penguins front office look like without Bill Guerin? (Pensburgh)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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