Carter Ashton will not appeal his suspension and claims he unknowingly used a PED while treating his asthma. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Toronto Maple Leaf forward Carter Ashton has been suspended 20 games for violating the league's policy on performing-enhancing drugs.
UPDATE FROM THN SENIOR WRITER KEN CAMPBELL:
The agent for Carter Ashton said his client fully accepts responsibility for what he puts into his body, but wonders whether the punishment in this case fits the crime.
Ashton was suspended 20 games by the NHL for violating the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program. In a separate statement, which is provided below, Ashton admits to taking Clenbuterol through an inhaler during an asthma attack. According to Ashton’s agent, Rick Valette, his client has had mild asthma since childhood, but nothing that would necessitate the use of an inhaler.
That apparently all changed this summer when, while working out with a player who plays professionally in Europe, Ashton had a significant asthma attack and was administered the inhaler by his workout partner. Ashton subsequently kept the inhaler, which he used one more time during training camp when another asthmatic episode occurred. Valette said Ashton then immediately went to the Leafs medical staff and got the proper medication, then was tested and the banned substance was still in his system.
The league will not comment on the veracity of Ashton’s claims. In an email to THN, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said to comment on the case would be a direct violation of the collective bargaining agreement: “I can’t comment at all on the case. Strictly prohibited from doing so.”
“He knows where he went wrong, he just didn’t think about it,” Valette said. “But the kid wasn’t trying to cheat. But under the league’s rules you get 20 games for HGH and you get 20 games for making a mistake on an inhaler. That’s the unfairness of it. He did this, he’s not denying it, but I think we need to look at this and I think there has to be more discretion. This is just collateral damage. This isn’t a guy trying to cheat.”
Valette acknowledges that it’s Ashton’s fault and Ashton should have to take responsibility for what goes into his body. But to have to wait until Dec. 21 to play again and lose almost $170,000 in salary amounts to a heavy price for a mistake.
On the other hand, this substance abuse policy has been collectively bargained and players, generally speaking, know they can’t put anything foreign into their bodies without first having it approved. This is not like Nicklas Backstrom, who was suspended by the International Ice Hockey Federation and missed the gold medal game at the Sochi Olympics for failing a test after taking medication that was approved by the Swedish team doctors prior to him stepping on the ice.
The original story:
Carter Ashton, a 2009 first-round pick, is still trying to reach his potential. Thursday, his progress was halted. The NHL has suspended the Maple Leafs forward 20 games for "violating the terms of the NHL/NHL Players' Association's Performance Enhancing Substances Program." Ashton, 23, will forfeit $169,185. The suspension also carries "a mandatory referral to the NHL/NHLPA Program for Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health for evaluation and possible treatment," according to the league.
So what happened? According to Ashton, he did in fact use a banned substance, but he did so unknowingly. The use stemmed from an asthma attack in the summer. Here is Ashton's full statement, released through the NHLPA:
“I suffered an asthmatic spasm in late August while in a training session getting prepared for the 2014-15 NHL season. One of the other athletes I was training with gave me an inhaler in order to help open my airway, which provided me with immediate relief from my asthma attack. I kept this inhaler and used it a second time early in the training camp upon experiencing another asthma episode. Unfortunately, I incorrectly assumed that there were no problems associated with the use of this inhaler and I used it without checking to see whether its contents were permissible under the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program.
I now recognize that I ingested Clenbuterol, a prohibited substance, through the inhaler. However, at no time was I seeking to gain an athletic advantage or to knowingly violate the terms of the program. I used the inhaler in response to exercise-induced asthma, a condition that my doctor with the Toronto Maple Leafs has since diagnosed and he has prescribed me with an inhaler.
As a professional hockey player, I recognize that I am responsible for what I put into my body, and I will not appeal my suspension. While I am extremely disappointed that I have let my teammates, our fans and the Maple Leafs organization down, I will work very hard during my suspension to stay in game shape so that I can help out the team when I am able to return.”
Leafs president Brendan Shanahan also released the following statement on the matter:
"The Toronto Maple Leafs support the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program and today's decision to suspend forward Carter Ashton. At this time, out of respect for Carter and the process involved, the club will not comment any further."
Ashton is the third NHLer to be suspended under this policy, following Sean Hill in 2007 and Zenon Konopka this past May. Is he telling the truth? The fact he owned up to the violation and won't fight the suspension makes it less likely we'll ever know.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin