“For the Wild to come out and tell me they wanted me, I can’t tell you the feelings I had,” Hill said in a telephone interview Friday, hours after finalizing a one-year deal with the Wild. “I’ve played a lot of years in this league, and that wasn’t the way I wanted to go out.”
The 37-year-old defenceman played for the New York Islanders last season and was suspended hours before their playoff loss to Buffalo on April 20, becoming the first NHL player to be suspended for violating the league’s drug policy. He received a 20-game suspension and will miss the first 19 games of this season.
The Wild said Hill acknowledged using a doctor-prescribed testosterone booster approved by the NHL, but tested positive for the anabolic steroid boldenone, which is banned.
“We have talked to Sean at length, and he denies knowingly taking any banned performance-enhancing substance,” the Wild said in a statement. “We also researched the situation and the substance Sean tested positive for and found that boldenone can be ingested inadvertently through health supplements and foods. We cannot determine the source of Sean’s test failure. However, we believe Sean did not knowingly take any banned performance-enhancing substance.”
Hill told the team he did not knowingly take boldenone and is unsure how it got in his system. He maintained that stance on Friday.
“I don’t have an explanation for it,” Hill said. “I wish I did. It would make my life a lot easier if I could put my finger on it.”
At the time of Hill’s suspension, Islanders GM Garth Snow said the team supported the league’s decision, saying the “New York Islanders do not support the use of performance-enhancing agents in any form.”
Under the new collective bargaining agreement, a player receives a 20-game suspension for a first positive test and is subject to a mandatory referral to the league’s substance abuse-behavioural health program for evaluation, education and possible treatment.
Every NHL player can be given up to two tests without notice every year, at any time.
Hill had one goal and 24 assists in 81 games for the Islanders last season. The hard-nosed native of Duluth ranked third in the NHL in hits and sixth in blocked shots.
Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro called Hill “one of our most consistent defencemen all season, and an unbelievable character guy.”
Hill said he expected the Islanders to re-sign him when the season concluded. But they never made an offer, and he was starting to get nervous that the steroid stigma would scare other teams away.
Looking for a big, physical presence on the blue line after getting pushed around by Anaheim in their first-round playoff loss, the Wild immediately began courting Hill when free agency began.
“I can’t think of any better timing for it,” Hill said. “To be able to come home and play in front of family and friends, it’s exciting.”
An eighth-round pick of Montreal in the 1988 draft, Hill has also played for Anaheim, Ottawa, Carolina, St. Louis and Florida.