Recalling other NHL suspensions for performance-enhancing substances
The 20-game suspension of Nate Schmidt isn’t just surprising because of how out-of-left-field it felt, not to mention how much the loss will hurt for the Vegas Golden Knights. It’s also surprising because, frankly, suspensions for performance-enhancing substances don’t really happen that often in the NHL.
Such a notion might prompt some curiosity about the few recent cases where this did happen, though.
Here are three semi-recent cases of the NHL handing out suspensions for violations of “the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program.” If any other examples stand out to you - this is limited to fairly contemporary cases, but feel free to go further back in time - absolutely share such occurrences in the comments.
For more on the Schmidt suspension, click here.
Zenon Konopka (pictured: bottom left)
On May 15, 2014, the NHL announced that Zenon Konopka was suspended 20 games. Much like with Schmidt, the precise substance wasn’t disclosed.
There were some key differences in Konopka’s case, however.
While Schmidt (and his team) release statements disagreeing with the NHL’s verdict, Konopka instead apologized for his failed test, stating that he took “full responsibility for this error.”
That said, Konopka did claim that the substances weren’t really enhancing his performance:
I want to make it clear that this violation occurred because I ingested a product that can be purchased over-the-counter and which, unknown to me, contained a substance that violated the program. Unfortunately, I did not take the necessary care to ensure that the product did not contain a prohibited substance. I want to stress, however, that I did not take this substance for the purpose of enhancing my athletic performance.
Konopka expressed a hope that he would move on to the 2014-15 season, but little seemed to happen after that suspension. He officially retired after signing a one-day contract with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.
It doesn’t appear that things worked out for Konopka, sadly, as hockeydb has no listings beyond 2013-14 (not in the NHL or any other league), the season that concluded before his failed test. Konopka reportedly signed in Poland in 2015, but there aren’t a ton of details about how that worked out. With enforcers on the wane in hockey over recent years (Konopka generated 1,082 penalty minutes, but just 30 points over 346 regular-season NHL games), it’s possible that he was nearing the end of his playing days, anyway.
Either way, not much happened for Konopka following that suspension, which he never technically served.
Shawn Horcoff (pictured: top)
In a statement regarding the suspension, Horcoff said that he “tried a treatment that I believed would help speed up the healing process,” but was unaware that the treatment “was not permitted under NHL rules.”
Here’s a longer excerpt from that release:
Although I was unaware that this treatment was not permitted under NHL rules, that is no excuse whatsoever. I should have done my research and I should have checked with the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program’s doctors. I accept full responsibility for my actions, and I am sorry.
Horcoff ended up returning to the Anaheim Ducks on March 14 after serving that suspension, generating five assists in 14 remaining regular-season games.
The veteran player ended his career after the 2015-16 season after appearing in 1,008 regular-season games and serving as the captain of the Edmonton Oilers. He’s serving as the Detroit Red Wings’ director of player development and has been with the organization since 2016.
Jarred Tinordi (pictured: bottom right)
Tinordi, 26, joins Nate Schmidt as an active player who’s been suspended 20 games for violating the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program.
Tinordi’s suspension was announced on March 9, 2016. The defenseman stated that he was “extremely disappointed” by the suspension, claiming that he didn’t “knowingly take a banned substance.”
Things got pretty fuzzy around that situation. Tinordi was traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the Arizona Coyotes, with Habs GM Marc Bergevin provided a vague explanation:
“I have a reason that I can’t really tell you why,” said Bergevin, “But if I could, you would probably understand.”
At the time, some believed that Bergevin was discussing John Scott being involved in the trade, but in hindsight, many wondered if he was actually alluding to Tinordi’s suspension. The Arizona Coyotes were “caught by surprise” that Tinordi was suspended, but the NHL’s Bill Daly stated that he had no reason to believe that Montreal “acted inappropriately.”
Whatever the case may be, Tinordi did not play with the Coyotes in another game after that suspension ended. In fact, he hasn’t been able to appear in an NHL game since, as he’s spent the last two seasons playing exclusively in the AHL after being waived following the suspension.
The former first-rounder (22nd overall by Montreal in 2010) is on a two-way contract with the Nashville Predators, which was signed on July 1. Will he ever get to see any NHL action again, even just for a “cup of coffee?” That remains to be seen.
As you can see from the recaps above, two of the three players listed (Konopka and Tinordi) haven’t appeared in an NHL game since their suspensions happened/ended. Horcoff saw his career wind down. There are some similarities and differences between their responses and the strongly worded statement Schmidt made about his 20-game suspension.
In all three situations, it’s unclear how much the suspensions factored into their waning NHL opportunities. Yes, Tinordi was a first-rounder, but a struggling one at that. NHL franchises covet experience, but Horcoff was getting long in the tooth. Konopka was an aging enforcer.
So, in a lot of ways, we haven’t really seen many situations like that of Schmidt, who topped Golden Knights skaters in average time on ice during both the regular season and playoffs in 2017-18. It’s somewhere between an unusual and a flat-out unique situation, and we’ll need to wait and see how this situation works out.