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Golden Knights face questions after Valentin Zykov’s suspension

Updated October 17, 2019 - 8:39 pm

Six players have violated the terms of the NHL/NHL Players Association Performance Enhancing Substances Program since the latest collective bargaining agreement was ratified in January 2013.

Two have been Golden Knights.

Forward Valentin Zykov was suspended for 20 games Thursday, after defenseman Nate Schmidt was given the same punishment last September.

Zykov, who is eligible to return Nov. 29 against the Arizona Coyotes, said in a statement released by the NHLPA that “while I haven’t been able to discover how I tested positive, I understand that I am responsible for what is in my body and will accept this penalty.”

His agent Rolland Hedges did not return a call seeking comment.

Knights president of hockey operations George McPhee, on the other hand, called the situation “black and white.” He heard of the impending punishment Wednesday and said Zykov told him he had taken supplements for four years.

McPhee said the forward continued to do so after being claimed off waivers by the Knights on Dec. 29 without the team knowing.

“Unfortunately, Zykov knowingly took supplements, tested positive and has been suspended,” McPhee said. “We support the suspension.”

Here are three questions the Knights are left with in the aftermath:

1. Is this a pattern?

McPhee said it was a “fair question” to ask why the Knights have dealt with two suspensions in three seasons, but he called Schmidt and Zykov’s punishments “completely different circumstances.”

Schmidt maintained his innocence after his suspension was announced Sept. 2, 2018. He claimed “environmental contamination” led to his positive test, but his appeal was denied by an independent arbitrator. Since then he’s been trying to reform the policy he violated as the Knights’ NHLPA representative.

The Knights supported Schmidt’s claims and, as McPhee put it Thursday, defended him “vigorously.” Zykov is not receiving the same backing.

“He takes supplements that, again, don’t come from us,” McPhee said. “We didn’t consent to it. It’s done without our knowledge. We don’t support it.”

2. What happens to Zykov?

It’s possible Tuesday’s game against the Nashville Predators was Zykov’s last in a Knights uniform.

His nameplate and equipment were gone from the City National Arena locker room after Thursday’s morning skate. He’s also done little to distinguish himself on the ice through 17 games over two seasons. He has four points (two goals, two assists) and is a minus-4 in that time.

“We’ll see where we are (when he’s eligible to return),” McPhee said. “You just never know. Trades can be made. Players can be called up to fill a hole and play really well. We’ll see.”

3. How does this affect the lineup?

The suspension seems to ensure 20-year-old Cody Glass will stay in the NHL, but McPhee said that “probably would’ve been happening anyway” thanks to the former sixth overall pick’s play.

Glass has five points in his first seven NHL games.

“He’s a great player and even better kid,” left wing Max Pacioretty said. “I’m just happy that he’s a part of this with us.”

With Glass seemingly entrenched at third-line right wing in the short term, Brandon Pirri took Zykov’s spot at third-line left wing Thursday against the Ottawa Senators.

With only 21 players on their roster, the Knights likely will promote someone soon from the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves.

In the long term, right wing Alex Tuch will likely draw back on the third line once he’s fully recovered from an upper-body injury sustained in the preseason. Coach Gerard Gallant said Wednesday the 23-year-old is “probably another week or two” away from returning to practice.

He, Glass and center Cody Eakin played on a line together in the preseason.

More Golden Knights: Follow all of our Golden Knights coverage online at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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