The NHL will suspend Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov for three games for conduct detrimental to the league, according to a press release from the NHL. He is not expected to appeal.
Kuznetsov, 27, tested positive for cocaine at the World Championships in May playing for Russia and was suspended four years by the International Ice Hockey Federation.
That normally would not affect his NHL contract. Under the CBA, “drugs of abuse” like cocaine don’t require a suspension. Instead, the league steers players toward treatment.
Kuznetsov agreed to take advantage of the NHL Players Association’s treatment programs and extra testing. He also arrived in Washington much earlier than normal for European players in August to take part in informal workouts.
But Kuznetsov misled the NHL and the Capitals during an investigation of a video that surfaced on May 27 showing him in a Las Vegas hotel room with a white powdery substance on a table directly in front of him. Kuznetsov insisted he’d never used cocaine, which wasn’t true giving the timing of the failed drug test at Worlds.
The failed IIHF drug test proved that false. Kuznetsov’s positive test came from a sample taken on May 26 the day Russia played the Czech Republic for the bronze medal at Worlds in Slovakia. That was the day before the video appeared on social media.
“We’ve had discussions after, and I think for the most part, he’s been truthful,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said at media day on Thursday. “I think we want to get him in a spot where he’s going to make a different choice next time.”
Kuznetsov’s salary-cap hit is $7.8 million per season, but this year his base salary and bonuses amount to $8.4 million. He is expected to forfeit some salary for the suspension and his hit will still count against Washington for the time he is out.
On May 31 the NHL released a statement by deputy commissioner Bill Daly saying the league had reviewed the video, interviewed Kuznetsov and cleared him.
"While we certainly do not condone or endorse some of the decisions he made on the night in question, Mr. Kuznetsov's account of the events that transpired aligns with other information we have been able to gather, and we have found no basis to question his representations with respect to what did -- and what did not -- occur," Daly said.
The Capitals also met with Kuznetsov to hear his side of the story and released a statement attributed to him that same day.
"While I have never taken illegal drugs in my life and career, I would like to publicly apologize to the Capitals, my teammates, our fans and everyone else, for putting myself in a bad situation," Kuznetsov said. "This was a hard lesson for me to learn."
Kuznetsov was provisionally suspended by the IIHF just two weeks later on June 13 after the failed test. That was upheld and made public on Aug. 23. That led to an in-person interview with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman this week and the subsequent suspension.
The Capitals expressed both disappointment and support for Kuznetsov. MacLellan was asked if cocaine use affected Kuznetsov’s play during an up-and-down season where he still finished with 72 points.
“I mean, 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.”
No teammate said Thursday that Kuznetsov had to address the group about his cocaine use and the consequences. He is banned from international competition until June of 2023, which means Kuznetsov will miss the 2020 Winter Olympics in Beijing if NHL players are allowed to participate.
“That’s ultimately up to him. Our job right now is we support him,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “There’s always consequences to actions. But main thing that we want to be there for (him) as teammates is to help him come through stronger, whether it’s off the ice, on the ice, to support him to make himself and make our team stronger.”
Kuznetsov will miss games against the defending champion St. Louis Blues on Oct. 2, the New York Islanders on Oct. 4 and the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 5.
“It’s very unfortunate what happened,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. “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.”
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