Kuznetsov is banned from international play for four years because the IIHF classifies cocaine as a prohibited substance. The NHL does not, so typically a positive test does not lead to a suspension. Instead, players may be contacted by the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program and recommended to a treatment program, but it’s not required. However, Kuznetsov’s meeting with Bettman centered on how he apparently misled league officials in late May, when a video of Kuznetsov sitting beside two lines of a white powdery substance during a team trip to Las Vegas during the season circulated on social media. At the time, Kuznetsov issued a statement denying ever using drugs, and the Capitals and NHL issued separate statements deeming the matter closed after conducting their own investigations and accepting his explanation.
The league said last month that Kuznetsov voluntarily sought help through an education and counseling program and agreed to a regular testing protocol as part of that program. Washington is not making Kuznetsov available to speak with the media until after Bettman’s verdict. But addressing Kuznetsov’s situation publicly for the first time Thursday, Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan said the team has “constantly been trying to help him out through the whole process and try to give as much support as we can.”
“I think he’s aware that it’s a big mistake in his mind, and he’s remorseful,” MacLellan said. “He knows he made a mistake, and he wants to move on from it. He wants to take responsibility for it but also wants to move on.”
Asked if Kuznetsov wasn’t entirely truthful in his first meeting with the team, given his initial statement that he never took drugs, MacLellan said, “We’ve had discussions after, and I think for the most part, he’s been truthful.”
Kuznetsov maintains that he did not take drugs the day the video was taken, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
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, but he had an inconsistent 2018-19 season with 21 goals and 51 assists in 76 games. MacLellan wasn’t willing to link substance abuse with Kuznetsov’s rocky season, but he said he believes Kuznetsov’s teammates would like to hear from him.
“He’ll address the team and just talk about his situation,” MacLellan said. “I think that would be an important step for the whole team to move forward.”
Players didn’t necessarily echo that sentiment Thursday.
“Sometimes the best thing is just support him and be at his side and don’t leave him alone,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “When it’s a hard moment, you have to stay together, and as a group all we’re going to do is support him and try to forget about it and hope he does not going to do the mistake again. ... I don’t think it’s that kind of situation where you have to stand up and say, ‘Listen guys.’ I think everybody makes mistakes, right? Unfortunately everybody find out about it, but I don’t think he has to stand up and say sorry. He’s already apologized to fans, to family and to boss as well.”
Said forward T.J. Oshie: “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.”