Bell gets 15 games, NHLPA may jump in

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

The National Hockey League Players Association may challenge Mark Bell's 15-game suspension.

After commissioner Gary Bettman announced the Maple Leafs winger would sit until at least the Nov. 6 game in Ottawa for conduct "dishonourable, prejudicial to or against the welfare of the league or the game of hockey, "the union issued a statement arguing that there was "no basis" for the "excessive" suspension.

"We are currently reviewing all of our legal options with respect to this matter," associate counsel Ian Penny said. "Mark ... faces incarceration at the conclusion of the season (a jail term of up to six months in California) and has already been suspended without pay as a result of his placement in Stage 2 of the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program.

'NO PURPOSE'

"There is no legitimate purpose served by adding a substantial league disciplinary suspension to the severe sanctions that have already been imposed."

Action by the union could be anything from filing a grievance with the league to getting some kind of injunction.

Bell's suspension won't start until the two doctors associated with the SABH issue him a pass from Stage 2, though yesterday Bettman noted Bell's contrite behaviour at Monday's hearing in New York. There, Bell repeated his public claims that he has not had a drink in the year since the alcohol-related hit and run incident in San Jose that injured another motorist.

"Mark has made extraordinary strides in his rehabilitation," Bettman said. "This positive progress was a material factor in reducing what could have been a lengthier suspension."

It was initially thought Bell wouldn't miss any games.

"Yeah, I think the length of the suspension was a surprise," Bell told reporters yesterday at the Air Canada Centre. "But I respect the decision the commissioner made and I look forward to moving on in a positive manner -- as I have been for the last year.''

The 27-year-old was suspended without pay, thus the lost wages on his $2 million US contract will not count against the Leafs' salary cap.

Ferguson, who accompanied Bell to New York with an NHLPA rep, was asked if it didn't feel as if the league was piling on his player.

"I'm disappointed, but I respect the decision," he said.

As for replacing Bell, who was projected as a possible second or third-line winger, the GM said: "We've got a good group of players and we'll make do."


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