Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan started off Caps Media Day with several organizational updates, including on Evgeny Kuznetsov.
In late August, Kuznetsov was suspended for four years by the IIHF after testing positive at the World Championship for cocaine. Kuznetsov will not speak to reporters until NHL commissioner Gary Bettman makes a ruling.
GM Brian MacLellan says the #Caps are still waiting to hear from the NHL re: Evgeny Kuznetsov, who met w/ commissioner Gary Bettman on Monday. Kuznetsov will not speak publicly until a decision has been announced by the league. pic.twitter.com/dbFYCZUYDp
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) September 12, 2019
“We’ve been in contact with them over the whole process here,” MacLellan said. “I’m not going to comment much. We’re in contact with them and they will make a decision on whether they want to put some further discipline on it.”
Kuznetsov missed the Capitals informal skate this past Monday and met with Bettman, presumably in the NHL’s New York offices, later that afternoon as first reported by The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir.
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) September 9, 2019
Capitals players, including the team’s stars, have rallied around Kuzy despite the test result contradicting Kuznetsov’s assertion that he has never used drugs.
“Obviously he made a mistake and he realized it,” Ovechkin said at the 2019 NHL Player Media Tour, according to NHL.com. “I think he apologized and we just have to be on his side and try to do what we can to bring him back on track.”
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) September 6, 2019
Kuznetsov’s close friend Dmitry Orlov was pressed repeatedly if he knew or suspected anything at the time during a recent Sport-Express interview. He denied any knowledge.
“Evgeny is my good friend and a great hockey player. He made a mistake,” Orlov said as translated by Igor Kleyner. “It’s terrible, of course – and for the fans who care about him. But in this situation he needs to be supported. It is sad, and unfortunate, but life does go on. He is still the same person, he has a family. Let’s hope that he remains on the same level [as a player], that he gets even better. Of course, there are lessons to be learned here. We’ll see how the NHL reacts, whether or not he is suspended. I talked to Zhenya on the phone, gave him my support.”
Tom Wilson, who skated with Kuznetsov during the Capitals’ magical Stanley Cup run in 2018, gave his full support to the Russian centerman too.
“We’re going to have his back,” Wilson said during BioSteel Camp. “Hopefully he can get through it. It’s never something you like to see in the media, but I’m sure he’ll learn. He’ll grow as a person and a player. We’re focused on Capitals. Whatever happens with the international stuff, it’s none of our business.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Wilson added, unsure if Kuznetsov will receive discipline from the NHL. “It’s kind of a sticky situation, but I’m sure it’ll all be handled. If he’s in a Caps uniform Game One, he’ll play. If not, we’ll deal with it.”
The Capitals and NHL conducted investigations and cleared Kuznetsov before the positive IIHF test was announced. Ovechkin believes the embarrassment and shame Kuznetsov endured has greatly motivated and focused him on having a huge season.
“He’s going to be better,” Ovechkin said. “Because, again, when you make mistakes, you try to bounce back right away, and I look at him and he’s in great shape. He’s going to be good this year.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong
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