Las Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt is going to miss the first 20 games of the season after being suspended for violating the NHL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. It should be noted that the suspension is without pay. Schmidt is allowed to participate in training camp, but can’t dress or play in preseason games. His suspension includes a mandatory referral to the NHL/NHPA Program for Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health. During that time, he will be evaluated and potentially receive treatment. Both the Golden Knights and Schmidt issued statements objecting the NHL’s ruling:
“While we respect the NHL/NHPA 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.”
Schmidt went onto say that he doesn’t agree with the suspension and won’t accept being labeled a cheater.
“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.”
Is this a big deal? It’s the league’s first suspension under the policy since Jarred Tinordi in 2016 and the fifth since the most recent collective bargaining agreement went into effect in 2013. The expert who testified on behalf of Schmidt likened the amount of the banned substance to a pinch of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Schmidt says that he only takes supplements given to him by his NHL team and has never tested positive before. Which makes you wonder if he actually did it?
Schmidt is a top defenceman, which definitely makes puts these allegations into question. Why would a player as remarkable as Schmidt risk it all for performance-enhancing drugs? Let’s look at some statistics for a moment.
Over the last 10 years, the NHL has publicly suspended only three (now four) NHL players for performance-enhancing drugs. There are approximately 800 players in the NHL each season. This begs the question – is the league just not testing and suspending players, or are hockey players less likely to use performance-enhancing drugs? Think about it for a moment, the MLB has issued approximately 40 drug suspensions since 2007, so why so few for the NHL?
It might be that the NHL actually isn’t doing their job. Or, it might be that hockey players just aren’t using performance-enhancing drugs because they don’t need to “bulk up”. And that’s what steroids do, right? Not exactly. These drugs help a person to be able to play longer. So if you can improve your game by playing an extra 5 or 10 minutes, what’s the downside of taking these? Nothing it would seem, in the NHL. But then let’s get back to this question about why Schmidt?
The answer to that remains to be seen. We will have more information of this in the coming weeks as this case gets sorted out. I do hope, for Schmidt’s sake that he’s telling the truth. If he is, the NHL has a lot of explaining to do.