Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt has been suspended for the first 20 games of the 2018-19 campaign without pay for violating the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program.
In a statement made shortly after his ban was announced, Schmidt, 27, said that he was “extremely disappointed,” continuing on to say that the fact he was even in his current position was “surreal.”
“Throughout my playing career I have been tested numerous times, including twice last season, and I have never before tested positive,” Schmidt said in his statement. “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.”
According to Schmidt, an expert who testified on the defenseman’s behalf at an appeal hearing regarding the suspension said that the amount of the banned substance in Schmidt’s system was seven billionths of a milligram/mL, comparing it to “the equivalent of a pinch of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.” Schmidt added that further analysis using a hair sample led to the conclusion that there was “no evidence of intentional use.” It was not specified what substance led to the violation.
Schmidt is the first player to be suspended under the NHL and NHLPA’s Performance Enhancing Substances Program since the 2015-16 campaign, when then-Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jarred Tinordi and then-Anaheim Ducks center Shawn Horcoff were given 20-game bans.
“While I support having a strong Performance Enhancing Substances Program in place for our sport, it is difficult to accept this suspension,” Schmidt said. “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.”
The Golden Knights, as one would expect, are standing firmly behind the defenseman, who they called “an honest person with high moral character and great integrity.” In their own statement regarding the suspension, Vegas voiced their displeasure with the league’s decision. “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,” the Golden Knights said.
While Schmidt will be permitted to take part in training camp, he won’t be eligible to compete in the pre-season. And make no mistake, Schmidt is no small loss on the Vegas blueline.
Not only did he finish second in scoring among Golden Knights defensemen last season with a career-best five goals and 36 points, Schmidt stepped into the No. 1 defenseman role with the expansion club, logging a team-high 22:14 per game. And not only did Schmidt lead the team in even strength ice time, he helped quarterback the second power play unit and was an integral part of the Golden Knights’ 10th-ranked penalty kill.
Schmidt continued to blossom during the playoffs last season, as well. He remained the ice time leader throughout the playoffs and notched three goals and seven points in 20 games as the Golden Knights won the Western Conference championship and came within three wins of the Stanley Cup. Schmidt was often utilized against the opposition’s top lines by Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant. In each round, he skated the bulk of his ice time against stars, tasked with shutting down the San Jose Sharks’ Joe Pavelski, Los Angeles Kings’ Anze Kopitar, Winnipeg Jets’ Mark Scheifele and Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin.
Without Schmidt, the Golden Knights will likely turn to Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb and Colin Miller to run their top two pairings, while Deryk Engelland, Jon Merrill and summer signing Nick Holden will round out the blueline.
Schmidt’s suspension will also hit his wallet hard. According to CapFriendly, citing the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, Schmidt will lose his salary from the date of the suspension through to 10 days prior to the conclusion of his ban. During those final 10 days, he will be paid 60 percent of his salary. That’s a sizeable chunk of change, too, given is entering the second season of his two-year, $4.45-million contract and was set to be paid $2.3 million this coming campaign. He will end up forfeiting upwards of $450,000.
And while there’s never a good time for a player to receive such a suspension, missing what amounts to a quarter of the campaign in the season prior to becoming a free agent could prove additionally costly for Schmidt. Given his production last season, Schmidt could have built on his totals to command a bigger pay day as an unrestricted free agent. Now, he’ll be starting his season a month and a half late. Schmidt won’t be able to make his return until Nov. 18, when the Golden Knights travel to Edmonton to face the Oilers.
“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,” Schmidt said. “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.”