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The NHL banned Meldonium yesterday. Are Avalanche players at risk of suspension?

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The same drug that earned Maria Sharapova a suspension earlier this year is now a banned substance with just 44 days before the first 2016-17 puck drop.

Minnesota Wild v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

We’ve all read about performance-enhancing drugs in sports the last 20 years, but until January 1st of this year, meldonium hadn’t been we have heard. The drug, developed in the U.S.S.R. in 1970 to increase blood flow for various heart conditions, is now banned by the World Doping Agency, and a number of athletes from that part of the world were suspended as a result.

The most prominent of which was Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova, who earned a two-year ban from sanctioned events after testing positive in March. She said she had taken the drug for more than ten years and hadn’t noticed the change in policy. The entire Russian U-18 hockey team was replaced by their U-17 counterparts at this year’s IIHF World Junior Championship in Finland. Overall, 124 athletes have been suspended for meldonium use since the ban—an overwhelming number of them Russian—and that doesn’t even include those from the recent Rio Olympics scandal.

Point is: in Russia and its surrounding countries, have been popping this stuff a daily multivitamin every morning for years. And now it’s banned by the National Hockey League.

The Associated Press reported yesterday meldonium has now been added to the NHL’s list of banned substances effective at the beginning of the season. The news first came out of Russia from news agency Tass.

So what’s the big deal? Players have a month and a half to kick it from their system before pucks start dropping on October 13th, right? What are we worrying about?

Though the official literature on meldonium says the drug should leave one’s system after just two-to-three days, there’s an increasing amount of evidence that says it may actually take much longer for long-time users like Sharapova. USA Today, in a piece written in the wake of the tennis player’s suspension, quoted anti-doping scientist Dr. Tom Bassindale on the following:

At this juncture, we don’t have anything else to report, as neither the NHL nor the Players Association has made a statement. Maybe there’s a grace period, some sort of wind-down clause afforded to declared users? Shoot, we don’t even know what the penalties would be.

But right now, it isn’t unreasonable—considering the statement above—to wonder if a number of Russian and Eastern European players could be at risk of NHL suspensions.

More specifically, I can’t help but wonder if Colorado Avalanche players Semyon Varlamov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov, and Fedor Tyutin could possibly miss time.

This isn’t a value judgment. Hell, this stuff was as legal as peanut butter until yesterday, but it would certainly be a blow to the team if they were suspended for any amount of time, and that’s concerning.

Stay tuned: this story could become interesting in the coming months.