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NHL could punish O’Reilly with fines and suspension

Buffalo Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly could be looking at discipline from the National Hockey League for his arrest last week in Lucan, Ont.

With parties in investigative mode and a court date in London, Ont., not scheduled until Aug. 20, it’s too early to say what penalties O’Reilly could face after being charged with driving while ability impaired and leaving the scene of an accident.

Reports surfaced Monday night about O’Reilly, 24, crashing his vintage 1951 Chevrolet pickup truck into a Tim Hortons in Lucan and then being arrested while walking on foot after abandoning the vehicle. The incident happened four days earlier, on July 9 at approximately 4:05 a.m.

It’s almost certain the NHL will be looking into the O’Reilly matter, although Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly could not confirm that process has opened Tuesday.

Said Daly in an email to The News: “As with any other DUI-related arrest, Ryan will be referred for evaluation immediately under the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program.”

That program was jointly introduced by the league and the Players Association in 1996 to address needs of players who run into trouble or reach out for help.

The league does not have a blanket policy of penalties for off-ice issues. Article 18-A of the collective bargaining agreement allows commissioner Gary Bettman to impose penalties for conduct “that is detrimental to or against the welfare of the League or the game of hockey.”

Those penalties can include fines of up to $10,000, suspension from game action or even the cancellation of a player’s entire contract. The Sabres could impose their own discipline against O’Reilly, pending appeal of the player to the league and PA.

Neither O’Reilly nor his agent, Pat Morris, have issued any statements on the incident. The Sabres issued a terse, two-sentence comment Monday night from General Manager Tim Murray that indicated they were still in fact-finding mode. It’s unclear when exactly the team learned of the incident, but police reports in the small township near London were not issued for more than four days.

The Tim Hortons that was struck by O’Reilly suffered damage and broken glass in its entryway but no customers or employees were injured. Calls for comment to the company’s corporate offices in Oakville, Ont., were not returned.

O’Reilly, of course, has yet to play a game for Buffalo. He was acquired in a draft night trade from Colorado on June 26 and signed a seven-year, $52.5-million extension on July 3, giving him the largest contract in franchise history.

It remains to be seen if the DWAI will impact the ability of O’Reilly, a Canadian citizen, from crossing the border into the United States to work. O’Reilly could face up to six months in jail for leaving the scene but multiple sources say it’s often tougher to enter Canada after a driving under the influence conviction in the U.S. than vice versa, as is the case here.

Pending adjudication, the league can simply suspend a player unilaterally. That’s what happened in the case of Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov, who played just six games last season after being arrested on a domestic violence charge in October. Voynov pleaded no contest to the charges on July 2, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years probation.

The league used Article 18-A.5 of the CBA to suspend Voynov, where in its judgment “the failure to suspend the Player during this period would create a substantial risk of material harm to the legitimate interests and/or reputation of the League.”

Following the 2013-14 season, the Tampa Bay Lightning used a compliance buyout on forward Ryan Malone after he was charged with DUI and cocaine possession in Tampa prior to the final game of the regular season. Malone had been an NHL regular for nine seasons, the previous six with the Lightning, until the incident. He played just six NHL games last season for the New York Rangers before asking for his release on Feb. 3.

The league has had two other recent off-ice cases regarding the Kings: Free agent forward Jarret Stoll was charged with felony cocaine possession April 17 in Las Vegas and veteran center Mike Richards had his contract terminated by the team last month for “material breach” after he was allegedly stopped at the Canadian/U.S. border in connection with the unlawful possession of OxyContin pills.

The league has not needed to take any action against either player because they are not under contract.

The ironic fact that O’Reilly hit a franchise of the popular bakery cafe was not lost on many Sabres fans. The namesake of the chain, Hall of Fame defenseman Tim Horton, was killed on Feb. 21, 1974 in a one-car crash while driving back from Toronto after playing a game for the Sabres.

In 2006, more than 30 years after his death and with statue of limitations expired, the Ottawa Citizen requested and published previously sealed records of the case that showed Horton was intoxicated and had taken barbiturates prior to the accident on the Queen Elizabeth Way in St. Catherines, Ont.

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Defenseman Mark Pysyk signed a two-year deal with the Sabres Tuesday for a reported $2.25 million, according to CBC. Pysyk, Buffalo’s No. 1 draft choice in 2010, was a restricted free agent who had an NHL salary of $810,000 last year and received a qualifying offer from the team.

Pysyk played just seven games in Buffalo last season and made 54 appearances in Rochester. The 23-year-old has played 70 NHL games in his career and is expected to be a regular on the Sabres’ blue line this season.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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