Defenseman Hill suspended 20 games
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Islanders defenseman Sean Hill on Friday became the first NHL player suspended for violating the league's drug policy -- a 20-game ban that will carry into next season.
Hill was already traveling home to Long Island when the Islanders were eliminated from the playoffs with a 4-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in Game 5 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Where Hill will be playing next remains a question because he completed his one-year contract with the Islanders and will become an unrestricted free agent in July. Under rules of the NHL's performance-enhancing substances program, he will sit out the first 19 games of next season.
It's unclear what substance was found in Hill's system.
In making a brief statement before the game, Islanders general manager Garth Snow said the team supported the NHL's decision to suspend Hill.
"The New York Islanders do not support the use of performance-enhancing agents in any form," Snow said.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told TSN of Canada that Hill's suspension came after an independent arbitrator denied the player's appeal.
Without providing a timetable, Daly wondered about Hill being allowed to play in the playoffs while his appeal was being heard.
"It's a concern. It's a balancing act," Daly said. "I would've been concerned if we had acted without Sean having had his right to be heard. That would have been unfair to the player to be out of competition if, in fact, he was able to sustain his appeal."
Hill helped the Islanders qualify for the playoffs, part of a team that won its final four games to clinch the East's eighth and last postseason berth on the final day of the regular season.
Coach Ted Nolan said the suspension didn't affect his team.
"Certain things you have to live with. It was just one of those things that happened," Nolan said. "We played with the people we had."
Islanders players declined to comment on Hill's suspension. But goalie Rick DiPietro noted the team missed the veteran's presence.
"He's been one of our most consistent defensemen all season and an unbelievable character guy," DiPietro said. "Any time you lose a big-time player like that, it's tough."
Rookie defenseman Drew Fata made his career playoff debut in Hill's place, getting six minutes of playing time, and was on for two Sabres goals. He also did not play in the third period.
Hill, who missed only one regular-season game with the Islanders, had one goal, 24 assists and a plus-6 rating in 81 contests. He had no points and was a minus-1 in the first four playoff games against the Sabres.
As part of the new collective bargaining agreement that ended the yearlong lockout in 2005, a player receives a 20-game suspension for a first positive test and is subject to a mandatory referral to the league's substance abuse-behavioral health program for evaluation, education and possible treatment.
Every NHL player can be given up to two "no-notice" tests every year, with at least one conducted on a team-wide basis. Players can be given a "no-notice" test at any time.
Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell said Buffalo players were tested twice during the regular season.
"Who knows what happened?" Campbell said before the game. "I feel bad for him that it's happened. You don't know what it is until everything comes out. ... You just have to be careful all the time."
Hill, a Duluth, Minn., native, was selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the eighth round of the 1988 draft. In 841 career regular-season games, Hill has recorded 60 goals and 229 assists for 289 points.
He played with the Canadiens in the 1991 and 1992 playoffs -- winning a Stanley Cup ring during his rookie year -- before ever dressing for an NHL regular-season game.
Hill spent the 2005-06 season with the Florida Panthers, following three with the Carolina Hurricanes, before signing with the Islanders. He is the second Islanders player to be given a lengthy suspension by the NHL in just over a month.
Hard-hitting forward Chris Simon received a record ban of at least 25 games, which ended his season and could carry into the next campaign, for striking Ryan Hollweg of the New York Rangers with a two-handed swing of his stick.
Simon served the 20th game of the NHL's longest suspension for on-ice violence Friday. He will have to sit out the remaining games next year.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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