The Vegas Golden Knights will start the year without a key defensive contributor on the ice, as Nate Schmidt was slapped with a 20-game suspension for a positive drug test under the NHL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

Nate Schmidt PED suspension
Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt battles Washington Capitals winger T.J. Oshie for the puck during Game 5 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. (Image: Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA Today Sports)

Under the terms of the suspension, Schmidt can still take part in training camp with the Golden Knights, but won’t be able to play in preseason games. He could also potentially receive treatment from the NHL/NHLPA program for substance abuse and behavior health.

Schmidt, Team Dispute Suspension

While athletes in many sports have frequently feigned ignorance when they test positive for a banned substance, both Schmidt and his team have issued strong statements proclaiming his innocence and suggesting that the suspension is inappropriate.

Neither Schmidt nor the Golden Knights mentioned the substance the player allegedly tested positive for in their statements. However, the defenseman says that the tests revealed only seven billionths of a milligram per milliliter of the prohibited drug, an amount he says is so small that it is inconsistent with intentional injection to gain an advantage, and is more likely a result of “environmental contamination.”

“One of the experts in environmental contamination who testified on my behalf at the Appeal hearing described the amount of the substance found in my system…as the equivalent of a pinch of salt an in Olympic-sized swimming pool,” Schmidt said in his statement. “While I support having a strong Performance Enhancing Substances Program in place for our sport, it is difficult to accept this suspension.”

The Golden Knights also issued a statement offering unconditional support for their player.

“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 team said in a statement. “Nate is an honest person with high moral character and great integrity. We will stand by him and support him during this time.”

Vegas Losing Key Defensive Contributor

According to TSN hockey reporter Frank Seravalli, Schmidt will lose nearly $500,000 in pay during his suspension, and will first be eligible to play on November 18 against the Edmonton Oilers.

A five-year pro, Schmidt spent four years with the Washington Capitals before being selected by Vegas in the NHL Expansion Draft. He slotted into the Golden Knights’ top defensive pairing, and had the best year of his career, scoring five goals and tallying 31 assists in the regular season.

Schmidt proved to be an even larger contributor during the playoffs. He averaged over 24 minutes per game in the postseason, scoring three goals and adding four assists in the Golden Knights’ run to the Stanley Cup final.

Heading into the 2018-19 season, oddsmakers aren’t quite sure what to make of the Golden Knights after the expansion team’s stunning performance in their first season of play. While every bookmaker lists them as a realistic contender for the Stanley Cup, the level of respect varies: William Hill and others have the Golden Knights clearly behind the main group of favorites at 20/1, while Sky Bet has Vegas as the 7/1 favorite to win a championship this coming season.