Alex Brandon / AP
Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018 | 1:28 p.m.
When the NHL announced Sunday morning that Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt would be suspended for the first 20 games of the season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, Schmidt released a statement saying he only used supplements provided by the team.
Today, Golden Knights general manager George McPhee spoke for the first time on the subject and defended the team.
“The organization isn’t responsible,” McPhee said. “It didn’t come from us. Everything we have — any supplements or any vitamins — are all (league) approved. We know where our food comes from, so there are no issues with respect to the club.”
McPhee and the Golden Knights released a statement on Sunday saying they “strongly disagree with the suspension.”
“A lot of you could go for a protein shake at a health food store around here someplace and be positive tomorrow on a test,” McPhee said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened. We did support the player in the appeal and I testified on his behalf, but the standards were pretty tough.”
Schmidt claims the failed test was due to 7 billionths of a milligram of a banned substance in his system and that it entered his system through environmental contamination.
“We firmly believe that the presence of a trace of the banned substance was accidental and unintentional,” the Golden Knights said in a statement. “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.”
Schmidt practiced with the team today at City National Arena and will be allowed to participate in training camp before his suspension kicks in when the preseason begins Sept. 16. McPhee said he spoke to the team regarding the situation.
“It’s about making sure you’re taking the right things,” McPhee said. “Whatever we supply you here is enough. You don’t need anything from anywhere else, and don’t trust it.”
Schmidt was Vegas’ top defender last season, posting career highs with five goals and 31 assists and leading the team with an average of 22:14 of ice time.
“You treat it like he’s an injured player and a guy that’s going to miss 20 games,” McPhee said. “Somebody else plays and plays more. We’ve got a deep defense, and I like carrying eight defensemen. We’re carrying eight again this year.”
Six of those eight are obvious: Brayden McNabb, Colin Miller, Deryk Engelland, Nick Holden, Jon Merrill and Brad Hunt.
The other two would ideally be Schmidt and Shea Theodore, but Schmidt will be suspended and Theodore has yet to sign with the team as a restricted free agent.
McPhee said he hopes to resolve negotiations with Theodore sooner rather than later, but it could leave Vegas extremely thin to start the season.
Rookies such as Zach Whitecloud or Erik Brannstrom could seize the opportunity. They’ll have a chance to prove themselves during rookie camp, which starts Friday at City National Arena.