Buffalo Sabres center Zenon Konopka was suspended for 20 games Thursday for violating the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program. The suspension will kick in when Konopka signs his next NHL contract, be it with the Sabres or any other NHL team. Konopka, 33, becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Konopka is now subject to mandatory referral to the NHL/NHLPA Program for Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health for evaluation and possible treatment. Konopka issued the following statement of apology Thursday through the Players’ Association:
“I deeply regret that I have tested positive for a prohibited substance in violation of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program. I accept full responsibility for this error. As a professional athlete I am responsible for what I put in my body, and I am to blame for this mistake.
“I want to make it clear that this violation occurred because I ingested a product that can be purchased over-the-counter and which, unknown to me, contained a substance that violated the program. Unfortunately, I did not take the necessary care to ensure that the product did not contain a prohibited substance. I want to stress, however, that I did not take this substance for the purpose of enhancing my athletic performance.
“I apologize to my teammates and to the Buffalo Sabres organization, as well as to my friends and family. I have learned a great deal from this experience, something I hope to be able to share with younger players. I will accept this suspension and continue to work hard to prepare for the 2014-15 season.”
Konopka also tweeted, “I’m a firm believer that people are depicted on how they deal with challenges and tough times in life” when the suspension was announced.
Konopka, a Niagara-on-the-Lake native, was thrilled to play close to his home after being claimed on waivers from Minnesota in January. But he was often a healthy scratch in the season’s final weeks and didn’t contribute much, posting just one assist and a minus-4 rating in 23 games for the Sabres last season. Buffalo was his seventh NHL team.