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Vegas Golden Knights signs suspended D Nate Schmidt to $35.7 million deal

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Vegas Golden Knights signs suspended D Nate Schmidt to $35.7 million deal

LAS VEGAS -- Suspended defenseman Nate Schmidt and the Vegas Golden Knights agreed to a $35.7 million, six-year contract extension Wednesday that runs through the 2024-25 season.

The team announced the move late Wednesday night after losing 3-2 to the Vancouver Canucks in a shootout. Schmidt's new deal is worth $5.95 million per year.

The 27-year-old Schmidt was banned 20 games last month for violating the NHL's performance-enhancing drug policy. He can return to the Golden Knights on Nov. 18.

"He is the kind of defenseman that every team in this league is looking for now," Vegas general manager George McPhee said. "He is unique, excellent defensively and has become a shutdown defenseman for us playing against the other clubs' top players. But he also brings a lot of pace to the game and he brings offense."

Schmidt led the Western Conference champions in ice time last season at 22:14 per game. He had five goals, 31 assists and 19 penalty minutes in 76 games. He added three goals and four assists with four penalty minutes in 20 playoff games for the expansion Golden Knights, who lost to the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final.

In five NHL seasons, Schmidt has 13 goals, 66 assists and 64 penalty minutes in 276 career games. The native of Minnesota was selected by Vegas from Washington during the 2017 expansion draft.

"He means a lot," coach Gerard Gallant said. "He's a top player for us. He's done a great job playing defense for us last year. Obviously he got a real nice contract that he deserves, and we miss him a lot. So he's a big player for our group and we're happy to have him for long term."

Schmidt insisted he didn't intentionally take a banned substance and couldn't have gotten any performance benefit from the "trace amount" that got into his system.

He and the Golden Knights released statements disagreeing with the penalty, though neither specified the substance. Schmidt said one of the experts testifying on his behalf at the appeal hearing likened the amount to a pinch of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

The appeal, which was heard by a neutral arbitrator, was denied.

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Former Capital Nate Schmidt suspended 20 games for violating NHL’s PED policy

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Former Capital Nate Schmidt suspended 20 games for violating NHL’s PED policy

Former Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt has been suspended 20 games without pay for violating the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performacing Enhancing Substances Program, the league announced Sunday.

Schmidt, who was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 expansion draft, will not be eligible to play until Nov. 18 when Vegas plays the Edmonton Oilers. In addition, he will not be able to play in the preseason, though he is allowed to participate in training camp.

The exact substance in which Schmidt tested positive for was not released.

In the wake of the news of the suspension, Schmidt strongly denied any wrongdoing in a statement released on the Golden Knights’ website.

I am extremely disappointed to learn that I have been suspended for a violation of the NHL/ NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program. 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. Throughout my playing career I have been tested numerous times, including twice last season, and I have never before tested positive. 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. This low amount was consistent with environmental contamination that I could not possibly have prevented.

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 - 7 billionths of a milligram/mL - as the equivalent of a pinch of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Another expert analyzed a sample of my hair and concluded there was no evidence of intentional use. The Vegas Golden Knights track players' strength and performance metrics and my results have remained constant over the past year.

While I support having a strong Performance Enhancing Substances Program in place for our sport, it is difficult to accept this suspension. I understand that I will miss these games, but I do not agree with the suspension and I will not accept being labelled 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 another Stanley Cup run.

I will make no further comment on this matter at this time.

Vegas also issued a statement in support of Schmidt.

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. 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.

Schmidt played an integral role in Vegas’ surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final in the team’s inaugural season. He led the team in ice-time per game in both the regular season and the playoffs. He was also second among the team’s defensemen in points with 36 (5 goals, 31 assists).

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Once a fan favorite in Washington, Nate Schmidt will play a leading role for Vegas in Stanley Cup Final

Once a fan favorite in Washington, Nate Schmidt will play a leading role for Vegas in Stanley Cup Final

LAS VEGAS—Nate Schmidt has faced his former teammates before. Twice, in fact, with the Golden Knights downing the Caps in each of the teams’ regular season meetings.

This week, though, it’s going to be different.

This week, the stakes will be significantly higher as Schmidt lines up opposite the Caps, the organization that signed him as a free agent out of Minnesota, the one that patiently developed him, the club that liked where his game was headed…but not quite enough to protect him in the expansion draft.

“It was a little bit bittersweet,” Schmidt said of being left exposed. “You thought that you had done enough to put yourself in position to still be in Washington. At the same time, it was sad to leave a good group but [I’m] happy to have had an opportunity [here]. We could all start over [as Golden Knights]. The perception of your game could be remodeled and redone. That’s the coolest part about what we’ve been able to do in Vegas.”

It's safe to say that things worked out well for both Schmidt and the team he was forced to depart. 

Schmidt is the Golden Knights’ ice time leader, skating almost 25 minutes per game, or 2-1/2 minutes more than any other Golden Knight. The 26-year-old also ranks second among Vegas defensemen in points with six (two goals, four assists) in 15 games.

Alex Ovechkin and the Caps, meanwhile, are in the championship round for the first time since 1998. Overcoming the loss of Schmidt wasn’t instantaneous. Actually, Washington’s group of blue liners didn’t find their collective game until GM Brian MacLellan acquired Michal Kempny near the trade deadline.

Schmidt, a fan favorite in Washington who was also among the most popular players in the dressing room, said he’s exchanged text messages with several of his former teammates since the Caps eliminated the Lightning. But he was also quick to point out that it’ll be “all business” once the series begins Monday night at T-Mobile Arena.     

“When you face them in the regular season, you get the emotions out,” Schmidt said of getting used to playing the Caps. “I’m going to have a lot of fun with it. I hope that they’re ready for me to be me on the ice. It should be a great series.”  

Schmidt also joked that he’ll have his head on a swivel when Tom Wilson steps onto the ice.

In addition to attempting to avoid oncoming forecheckers, Schmidt also figures to see his share of Ovechkin. Asked how he plans to play the Caps' captain, Schmidt said he hopes all of his years practicing against No. 8 will serve him well in this series.

It’s going to be weird for Schmidt and his former teammates alike. And, at times, things could get a bit awkward. All that said, Schmidt says he can’t wait for the Final to begin, in part, because he knows so well what it means to both teams—and cities—to be here.

“I love it,” he said with his trademark smile. “It’s going to be great. At the end of the day, you want to so say it’s another game. But it means a lot to this city for us to be here. Who could have scripted this at the expansion draft last year? I don’t think anybody could have. It’s pretty special for both teams. For the proposed window to be back open again in Washington and for us to be here as an expansion [team].”

“This,” he added, “is what you play for.”

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