bell-mark070904x190

Mark Bell, right, will serve a 15-game suspension before playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. ((Duane Burleson/Associated Press))

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mark Bell, already facing jail time for his role in a 2006 traffic accident, will be suspended for15 regular season games, the NHL said Wednesday.

"Playing in the National Hockey League is a privilege, and with that privilege comes a corresponding responsibility for exemplary conduct off the ice as well as on it," NHLcommissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.

Bettman said a longer suspension could have been possible but that Bell was being credited for making "extraordinary strides in his rehabilitation."

The suspension without pay will start after Bell is reinstated by the doctors who administer his care under the joint Substance Abuse and Behavioural Health program.

Bell, 27, pleaded no contest on Aug. 15 to drunk driving and hit-and-run charges stemming from an incident on Sept. 1, 2006, when he was a member of the San Jose Sharks.

He will serve six months in a Santa Clara, Calif., county jail next summer, so as not to conflict with the NHL season.

Bell was arrested following an early morning accident in Milpitas, Calif., a town in the San Jose foothills.

Bell's blood-alcohol level was 0.15, nearly double the legal limit of 0.08, when he rear-ended a pickup truck and walked away before being arrested a short distance from the scene.

The driver of the truck, 40, sustained minor head injuries and lacerations.

San Jose traded Bell and goaltender Vesa Toskala to Toronto for first-, second- and fourth-round draft picks on June 22.

Toronto general manager John Ferguson Jr. said last week the club was aware of the possibilityBell would receivecensure from the league but had received reports that the player was complying with the program and making progress.

Bell posted 11 goals and 21 points in 71 games last season for the Sharks, who acquired him in a three-way swap involving the Chicago Blackhawks and Ottawa Senators on July 9, 2006.

Bell has totaled 83 goals and 172 points in 410 NHL games since being drafted eighth overall by Chicago in 1998.

The St. Pauls, Ont., native has two years and $4.5 million US remaining on the contract he signed with the Sharks on July 25, 2006.

With files from the Canadian Press