There was a notable absence from Capitals media day on Thursday.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, suspended four years from international hockey for a positive cocaine test, wasn’t there to explain what happened during his tumultuous summer. It remains unclear if the NHL can discipline Kuznetsov for lying during an investigation after a video surfaced on social media showing Kuznetsov in a room with a powdery white substance that appeared to be cocaine. That video came out on May 27.
Once the International Ice Hockey Federation suspended Kuznetsov June 13 for testing positive for cocaine on May 26, the day of the bronze medal game between Russia and the Czech Republic at the World Championships, the incident took on a different context.
The NHL treats cocaine as a “drug of abuse” and pushes treatment, not punishment. Lying to the league and the Capitals during an investigation? That could be a different matter. For now, Washington and Kuznetsov wait for word. General manager Brian MacLellan wasn’t ready to say Kuznetsov’s drug use had any impact on his sometimes erratic play last season when he dropped to 72 points.
“That’s hard to say. You’d have to ask him that,” MacLellan said. “There’s no indication that those are correlated. It could’ve had an effect, or other stuff could’ve had an effect.”
You wouldn’t blame management or teammates for wondering, though. Kuznetsov has done all the right things this summer. He arrived back in Washington weeks before most of the organization’s other European players. He is taking part in the education and treatment options offered by the NHL Players Association. His teammates have noted all of that.
“I don’t know, I mean, I made mistakes in my past. I missed a practice once and you know got in some trouble and I addressed the team,” T.J. Oshie said. “And sometimes it gets a little emotional, but I think Kuzy is a great guy. I think he’s a good teammate and he’s fun to play with, I sit next to him in the locker room during games. He’s a good person so I don’t think he has to say much to us. If he does, I think people will appreciate it, but he doesn’t have to say anything to me, that’s for sure. We want him to be good.”
That was a common theme from teammates throughout the day as they came out one after another for interviews. They professed support, not condemnation. If they wonder or worry if the drug affected Kuznetsov on the ice last season no one said that or even hinted at it. Most agreed with Oshie that even a team explanation was not necessary.
“His mind is where he should (be) with training camp tomorrow,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “It’s very unfortunate what happened, but at the same time for us as friends I think it’s really important we support him no matter what and we’re going to fight this together as a family here.”
Ovechkin, his fellow Russian, called Kuznetsov after news of the suspension broke in August just to make sure his friend was okay, to let him know if he needed help. He, too, sees no need for an apology in front of the team. Consider it a hard lesson learned.
“Not as the captain, as a friend and a close friend, I think we should support him,” Ovechkin said. “[Kuznetsov] realize he makes mistake. Everybody makes mistake in life, you guys as well. Sometimes the best thing is just support him and be at his side and don’t leave him alone. I think all other things you have to be with him and when it’s a hard moment you have to stay together.”
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