Toronto's Bell put on indefinite suspension by NHL

Updated: September 4, 2007, 7:19 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Already facing a six-month jail sentence on drunken driving and hit-and-run charges, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mark Bell has been suspended indefinitely without pay by the NHL after being placed in its substance abuse program.

Mark Bell

Bell

TSN of Canada, citing sources, first reported the story on its Web site. The league issued a joint statement with the NHL Players Association on Tuesday afternoon, saying Bell has been placed in "Stage 2" of the program and is under the care of the program's doctors. Bell will remain suspended without pay until reinstated for on-ice competition by the program doctors after consultation with the league and the union, the league said.

"I'm not running away from the mistakes I made," Bell told reporters. "I'm meeting it head on, taking the steps necessary to make it better, and learning from the mistakes that I made.

"Sometimes you think everything is going great and your life takes a turn for the worst. You deal with it and move ahead. Things happen for a reason, and this happened to me for a reason and I'm moving ahead in a positive manner."

To be reinstated, the 27-year-old will need approval from the NHL and the league's players' union after consultation with program doctors.

"He's been under good care, he's fully complied with all of the testing through the year," said Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson. "It's my understanding that the Stage 2 process is related ... to the plea arrangement."

He has been part of Stage 1 since last September, when he was arrested in California.

"Per the terms of the [Substance Abuse & Behavioral Health] program, a player who is convicted of a controlled-substance offense [including under a plea arrangement or similar procedure] is assessed by the program doctors and staged appropriately," the statement read.

Bell, who was traded to Toronto in June by the San Jose Sharks, pleaded no contest on Aug. 14 to charges stemming from a September 2006 incident in which his Toyota sedan rear-ended a pickup truck in an early-morning accident in Milpitas, Calif.

The 40-year-old driver of the truck received head injuries and cuts. Bell walked a short distance from the scene and was arrested. His blood-alcohol level was higher than 0.15, nearly double the state's legal limit of 0.08, prosecutors said.

The drunken-driving charge is a felony and the hit-and-run charge was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor as part of the plea agreement, Bell's defense lawyer, Ken Robinson, said last month. A sentencing date has not been set. Bell will serve six months in a California jail at the end of next season.

"This was a fair settlement to a difficult case," Robinson said.

At the time of his arrest, Bell had not yet played for the Sharks after being acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks, where he was named Chicago's "Man of the Year" for his charity work and community service.

He was a disappointment in his only season in San Jose, managing just 11 goals and 10 assists in 71 games. When he was traded this summer, Bell had two years and $4.5 million remaining on the contract he signed after joining the Sharks.

The Maple Leafs open training camp Sept. 13. The program doctors will make a "clinical determination" as to what extent Bell may be allowed to participate in camp, according to the league/NHLPA statement.

"Mark has done absolutely everything asked of him," said Bell's agent, Larry Kelly. "He's cooperated in every way. I think he's really benefited from the program to date."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.