Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt suspended 20 games for violating league’s substance policy

Vegas’ top blue liner will not be eligible to return until Nov. 18.

Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt has been suspended for the first 20 games of the regular season for violating the terms of the league’s Performance Enhancing Substances Program.

Schmidt will be able to participate in training camp, but will not dress for Vegas’ preseason or regular season games, per the league.

“We were notified that the NHL has suspended Nate Schmidt for violating the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program. While we respect the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program and are committed to its success, we strongly disagree with the suspension,” the Golden Knights said in a statement. “We firmly believe that the presence of a trace of the banned substance was accidental and unintentional.

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

In his own statement released by the NHL Players Association, Schmidt said an expert in environmental ontamination, who testified on his behalf during the appeal process, evaluated that the amount of substance taken was 7 billionths of a milligram, or the equivalent of a pinch of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

“The fact that I’m issuing this statement is surreal to me as I have only used supplements provided by my NHL team and I have always been extremely careful about what I put into my body,” Schmidt said in the statement. “Throughout my playing career I have been tested numerous times, including twice last season, and I have never before test positive.”

Schmidt added that as he did not intentionally take the banned substance, there was no performance benefit to what was “inadvertently” taken.

“While I support having a Performance Enhancing Substances Program in place for our sport, it is difficult to accept this suspension,” Schmidt said. “I understand I will miss these games, but I do not agree with the suspension and I will not be labeled a cheater.

“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. 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 mother Stanley Cup run.”

Schmidt had 36 points last season (5 goals, 31 assists) and was elevated to Vegas’ top defensive pairing alongside Brayden McNabb. As the Golden Knights’ top lockdown defenseman, Schmidt recorded 16 penalty minutes in a career-high 76 games played. He scored three goals in Vegas’ run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Schmidt will not be eligible to return from this suspension until Nov. 18 against the Edmonton Oilers.