Washington Captials center Evgeny Kuznetsov won’t be suiting up for Team Russia in an IIHF event for the next four years. He’s been suspended after a positive cocaine test, administered during the 2019 World Championship, and he's taken full ownership of his wrongdoing, as he admitted in a statement released Friday morning.
So we won’t see him at the worlds or, should the NHL attend, the 2022 Beijing Olympics. But what happens to Kuznetsov on the NHL side?
In terms of Kuznetsov missing games or any punitive measures: probably not much, if anything at all. A simple examination of the NHL and NHL Players’ Association’s drug policy tells us as much. The NHL does test for drugs – subjecting players to no-notice tests during the season. And, as NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly pointed out to The Hockey News via email Friday, the “two-test” standard no longer applies. There’s no limit to the number of random tests a player can receive during the season. But these rules, of course, apply to drugs of the performance-enhancing variety. Per the collective bargaining agreement, cocaine is not on the NHL’s list of PEDs.
“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 a statement released by the NHL Friday morning. “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.
The NHL has never been tough on recreational drug use and is more likely to steer players toward a treatment program than hand out any official discipline. We should therefore not expect to see Kuznetsov miss games in 2019-20 because of a suspension. During negotiations for the next CBA, the NHL and NHLPA had also recently tabled the idea of a 2021 World Cup, and Kuznetsov would be eligible. It involves international competition but is run by the NHL and PA, independent of the IIHF.
That said, it remains to be seen if Kuznetsov misses time because of treatment or discipline handed out by his own team. The Capitals' statement on the matter, released Friday morning:
“We are aware of the positive test result and related international sanction that has been imposed on Evgeny Kuznetsov. We are disappointed with this development and take this occurrence seriously. We understand that Evgeny has voluntarily sought help through the education and counselling program provided for in the NHL/NHLPA collective bargaining agreement and has agreed to a regular testing protocol relating to his involvement with that program. In addition, we are committed to ensuring he has the necessary support required to work through this situation. We will remain in contact with the NHL as they determine the next steps. Because of the sensitive nature surrounding this matter, there will be no further comment from us at this time.”
It's also still possible the NHL makes a disciplinary exception based on what it learns when its brass sit down with Kuznetsov.
“Here, we understand that Mr. Kuznetsov has voluntarily sought help through the education and counselling program provided for in the NHL and NHLPA collective bargaining agreement and has agreed to a regular testing protocol relating to his involvement with that program,” Daly said in the statement. Mr. Kuznetsov has also agreed to an in-person meeting with Commissioner Gary Bettman to discuss his situation and review his conduct prior to the start of Training Camp preceding the 2019-20 season. We intend to reserve further comment on any additional actions that may or may not be taken with respect to today’s announcement (disciplinary or otherwise) pending the completion of the Commissioner’s meeting with Mr. Kuznetsov.”
It sounds like the league and Capitals will treat Kuznetsov's case with care, at least in terms of getting him the help he needs. But it would still be a shock if he's handed any official punishment preventing him from playing NHL games this season.
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