Hockey

NHL suspends Leafs forward Mark Bell

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mark Bell has been suspended without pay indefinitely and placed in the NHL's substance abuse program.

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mark Bell has been suspended without pay indefinitely and placed in the NHL's substance abuse program.

The NHL suspended Bell, 27, on Tuesday after he 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.

He will also need the approval of both the NHL and the NHL Players' Associationto bereinstated, as per the terms of the league's substance abuse program.

"He's been under good care; he's fully complied with all of the testing through the year," saidMaple Leafs general managerJohn Ferguson. "It's my understanding that the Stage 2 process is related … to the plea arrangement."

Players enrolledin Stage 1 of the substance abuse program are able to continue playing while those in Stage 2 cannot.

Bell's agent Larry Kelly says his client has had no trouble complying with the program during the past year.

"This has been actually a very good story," said Kelly. "It's been a life-changing event for Mark.

"Mark has done absolutely everything asked of him. He's co-operated in every way. I think he's really benefited from the program to date."

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.

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.

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

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

"We were aware of the charges of the incident, and also of the fact that he'd been fully compliant of the program through the year and had not failed a single test," said Ferguson. "He's had a whole season of positive decision-making."

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

Toronto opens training camp on Sept. 13.