The Capitals weren’t caught off guard by Friday’s revelation. The team has been working with Kuznetsov “for a while now,” according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
Earlier this summer, a video of Kuznetsov sitting next to two lines of white powder circulated on social media, and Kuznetsov subsequently denied the use of any drugs. Both the Capitals and the NHL issued statements in late May accepting Kuznetsov’s explanation and deemed the matter “formally closed.”
When they were informed of the positive test, Capitals officials were upset that Kuznetsov apparently lied to them following the appearance of the video. However, Kuznetsov maintains that he did not take drugs the night the video was taken, according to the person with knowledge of the situation.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and the Capitals released separate statements Friday, saying Kuznetsov voluntarily sought help through an education and counseling program and agreed to a regular testing protocol as part of that program.
Additionally, Daly said Kuznetsov agreed to an in-person meeting with Commissioner Gary Bettman to discuss the test and review his conduct before the start of training camp. The statement does not mention any disciplinary actions for Kuznetsov but leaves the option open pending his meeting with Bettman.
“Unlike the IIHF, cocaine is not considered a performance-enhancing drug and is therefore not a Prohibited Substance under the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program,” Daly said in the statement. “Instead, it is considered a drug of abuse that is tested for and for which intervention, evaluation and mandatory treatment can occur in appropriate cases.”
Kuznetsov also released a statement Friday.
“Representing my country has always been so close to my heart and something I take so much pride in. Not being able to put that sweater on for four years is very hard to take,” Kuznetsov said. “I have disappointed so many people that are important to me, including my family, teammates and friends. From the first day I took the ice in D.C., the Washington Capitals organization and our fans have been nothing but great to me and my family. I feel absolutely terrible for letting you down. I realize that the only way I can win you back is to take ownership of my situation and my actions from this point forward.”
Kuznetsov was the Capitals’ leading scorer in their run to the Stanley Cup a year ago, tallying 12 goals and 20 assists in 24 games. He had 21 goals and 51 assists in 76 games this past season, which the Capitals considered low.
Internally, the Capitals aren’t willing to directly link Kuznetsov’s inconsistent 2018-19 season with substance abuse.
“I think the frustration from my point or the organization’s point is there’s a top-10 player in the league in there, and when he’s on, it’s a lot of fun to watch and our team is a lot better,” Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan said at the end of the season. “And when the inconsistency is there, I think everybody gets a little frustrated because you want top-10 Kuzy.”
Kuznetsov’s IIHF ban also will bar him from participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, regardless of whether NHL players are allowed to play.
The Russian Ice Hockey Federation said Friday it will “closely monitor developments and will take all necessary measures in accordance with WADA, the all-Russian anti-doping rules and the IIHF requirements.”
NHL players who test positive with high levels of cocaine and marijuana may be contacted by the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program and recommended to a treatment program, but it’s not required. Players are drug-tested at least twice annually, once in training camp and once in the regular season, and they can be subject to random testing during the regular season and playoffs.
Isabelle Khurshudyan contributed to this report.