The 2018-2019 NHL season is now a month away, and this offseason has given hockey fans something to look forward to. This offseason, however, is far from over, as several major headlines around the league have created tons of buzz.
Last season’s Cinderella team, the Vegas Golden Knights, have high expectations this upcoming season. Looking to build on last year’s immediate success, the Knights have all the pieces in place, in addition to some solid pieces acquired in free agency to make another deep postseason run. However, they will have to play a significant chunk of the regular season without one of their top defensemen. On Sept. 2, the NHL announced that defenseman Nate Schmidt had violated the NHL/NHLPA Performance-Enhancing Substances Program.
As a result, Schmidt was handed down a suspension of 20 games without pay. Schmidt will be permitted to participate in team activities during training camp but will not dress or play in any preseason games in addition to the first 20 games of the Knights’ regular season schedule.
Also, under the terms of the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, he must go through mandatory referral to the NHL/NHLPA Program for Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health for evaluation and possible treatment.
While Schmidt and the Golden Knights support the Performance-Enhancing Substances Program, neither side seems to agree with the NHL and NHLPA’s disciplinary decision. Schmidt issued a statement explaining the situation and circumstances regarding the mysterious tainted substance. Aside from Schmidt clearly disagreeing with the suspension and pleading that he should not be labeled a cheater, he said that he only used supplements provided by the Golden Knights’ medical staff and that he has never tested positive for any drug violations, passing two tests last season.
In addition, his strength and performance have remained constant throughout the season, and a hair sample revealed that there was no evidence of intentional use of a banned substance. Schmidt claimed that one of the experts on environmental contamination, who testified on his behalf, concluded that the amount of the tainted substance in his system was microscopic and that it came to be seven billionths of a milligram/mL.
According to experts, this is the equivalent of a pinch of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Despite getting second and third opinions from experts, Schmidt lost his appeal and will have to forfeit $482,258.28 of his $2.3 million that he was set to earn this season.
The Knights’ organization has fully supported Schmidt, stating similar claims that he used in his personal statement. Neither party chose to comment any further on the matter.
Schmidt was an essential player during the Knights’ magical run last season. Selected by the Knights from the Washington Capitals in the expansion draft, he registered career-highs in goals with 5, assists with 31 and points with 36 in the regular season and contributed 7 points in 20 games during the playoffs.
He played an average of 22:14 total ice-time per game in the regular season and 24:25 total ice-time per game in the playoffs.
The Knights eventually lost to his former team, the Capitals, in the Stanley Cup Finals in five games. Schmidt will be eligible to return to action on Nov. 18 against the Edmonton Oilers.
Elsewhere around the league, the Columbus Blue Jackets are in a tough situation regarding two of their top players on the roster. Star forward Artemi Panarin and two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky are both set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, 2019.
The Blue Jackets have not figured out whether to sign them to a long-term extension or explore other options. Panarin’s situation is the tougher one, as he was the team’s leader last season and set career-highs in assist and points with 55 and 82 last season, respectively.
However, speculation has risen that Panarin does not want to sign a new contract with the Blue Jackets, especially if it is a long-term extension.
This was his first season as a Blue Jacket, as he was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in a blockbuster deal on June 23, 2017. Panarin, who is 26, is owed $6 million this upcoming season, with a $6 million cap hit.
Bobrovsky, who turns 30 on Sept. 20, is owed $6.2 million this upcoming season, with a $7.425 million cap hit.
Head coach John Tortorella, who is reportedly looking for a contract extension of his own, believes that the uncertainty regarding Panarin and Bobrovsky will not have a negative impact on the team’s morale and performance.
The NHL has also unveiled the first 10 of the top 50 current players in the league.
These players include William Karlsson, Mathew Barzal, Filip Forsberg, Dustin Byfuglien, John Klingberg, Jack Eichel, David Pastrnák, Pekka Rinne, Marc-André Fleury and Alex Pietrangelo.
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