Let's review the Minnesota Wild's defensive corps one year ago: Kim Johnsson and Petteri Nummelin covered the skating and puck moving. Martin Skoula and Keith Carney covered the sound positional play. Kurtis Foster
, Brent Burns and Nick Schultz covered the potential with flashes of stellar play. The Wild's deficiencies among defensemen were points and physical play. On Friday, the Wild sought to improve both with the signing of Duluth native Sean Hill to a one-year contract.
Hill brings toughness, experience and a blistering shot from the point. He also brings some baggage with him to his home state.
Despite having played in 841 NHL games and 50 playoff games, Hill's image was tarnished at the end of last season when he became the first NHL player to be suspended for the use of a performance-enhancing substance. He was suspended for 20 games by the NHL, and after an appeal, he served one of those games in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Hill, who maintains that he never knowingly took a performance enhancer, will miss the Wild's first 19 games and will not be allowed to make his Wild debut until mid-November.
Wild management is well aware of the sensitivity surrounding the issue, but Assistant General Manager Tom Lynn says the club believes in giving a second chance to a player that it believes did not knowingly break the rules.
"Sean tested positive for the anabolic steroid boldenone during a league screening last season," the team said in a statement. "Sean acknowledges the use of a testosterone booster for which he was issued a therapeutic-use exemption by the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program Committee. We have talked to Sean at length, and he denies knowingly taking any banned performance-enhancing substance. We also researched the situation and the substance Sean tested positive for and found that boldenone can be ingested inadvertently through health supplements and foods. We cannot determine the source of Sean’s test failure. However, we believe Sean did not knowingly take any banned performance-enhancing substance."
When the cloud of Hill's suspension dissipates, the Wild will possess a proven minute-muncher with a knack for hard hits, and harder shots from the point. Hill's best season came during 1999-2000 with Carolina, when he posted 44 points in just 62 games. Last season, he scored one goal and 24 assists while playing in 81 regular season games with the New York Islanders. His contributions went beyond points. He ranked third in the NHL with 252 hits and sixth with 202 blocked shots.
At 37, Hill joins a defensive group that could use more toughness and veteran savvy. Just 11 days younger than Keith Carney, Hill can help provide leadership to other young defensemen like Brent Burns, Kurtis Foster
and Nick Schultz.