Evgeny Kuznetsov had the distinction of being one of the only players in the NHL to test positive for COVID-19 twice. Kuznetsov was suspended by the team, along with Kuzy’s close friend Ilya Samsonov, towards the end of the year for disciplinary reasons relating to being late to a team function, which may have played a role in the Caps’ third consecutive flameout in the first round.
Two reports in early May from the biggest insiders in the NHL, Pierre LeBrun and Elliotte Friedman, suggested the Capitals would explore moving on from Kuznetsov this summer. The Capitals are “running out of patience” with the Russian center, said Friedman.
Now comes a trade target analysis article from another big NHL analyst, Frank Seravalli, that wrote the “Caps are tired of Kuznetsov’s antics.”
Seravalli, the president of the Professional Writer Hockey Association, wrote on the Daily Faceoff:
Scoop: Simply put, the Caps are tired of Kuznetsov’s antics. From being one of the only NHL players to test positive for Covid-19 twice this season, to his four-year suspension from international hockey after testing positive for cocaine, the time is right for change. Kuznetsov is unquestionably a talented player – see his Conn Smythe-worthy playoff run in 2018 – but an inconsistent one. His contract will be difficult to move, but perhaps less so after the Caps pay his $5 million signing bonus due in July.
Kuznetsov is owed a $5 million signing bonus in July, meaning he would only be owed $3 million for the rest of the 2021-22 season per Cap Friendly. While Kuzy’s overall cap hit will be tough to move with a flat cap, $7.8 million per season, he will only be owed $24 million of his $62.4 million contract over the remaining four seasons ($6 million per season).
Kuznetsov has made more major news off the ice than on it since helping lead the Capitals to the Stanley Cup in 2018. Kuznetsov was suspended three games by the NHL in September 2019 for “inappropriate conduct”. He also received a four-year suspension from the IIHF for failing a drug test due to cocaine. Kuzy ignored NHL COVID-19 protocols early during the 2020-21 season, contracting COVID-19 for a first time after playing video games and watching UFC fights maskless in the same hotel room along with Alex Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov. All four players missed games. The Capitals were fined $100,000 as a team. Later, Kuznetsov and Samsonov were placed on protocol again in May before the start of the playoffs.
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said nobody was off the table except Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom when asked if the team would look to deal Kuzy over the offseason.
“I think he’s the key to our organization in what decisions get made of how he plays or how he comes out of this,” MacLellan added. “We won the Stanley Cup because we had a great one-two punch and Eller in the third spot. Center depth is important. We need him to play at his highest ability and if he can’t play at his highest ability, we’re not going to be a good team and we’d have to make some other decisions.”
The Capitals GM was asked if he was still confident the team, including new head coach Peter Laviolette, could get him back to that top tier superstar level.
“I don’t know. I think it’s been inconsistent for the last few years here and it’s hurt our team,” he said.
Laviolette agreed with MacLellan that Kuznetsov was “inconsistent” due to his 30-plus days in COVID protocol.
“I don’t think he ever hit the gear or the stride that he wanted to and had the impact in the game that he wanted to, or that he wants to as a player,” Laviolette said. “The importance of that I think is crucial to a team. You’re talking about a top center. Somebody who has in his past been the difference maker for a winning team. And so it will be a big summer for him to train, come into camp in great shape, and try and move forward with a better season.”
Meanwhile, Kuznetsov shrugged off reports of a possible trade and pointed to that being the nature of the beast of playing a team sport for a profession.
“No, no it does not bother me, no,” he said. “You know, all I am worried about is what is inside the team and the coaches and what they think actually and what they wants me to do. If I am not success, those rumors will be for every player like that, you know? That’s the business and I understand what is going to happen. My job is just be in shape, practice, and perform on the ice. I am a nice person and I am never complain about anything if I understand it. If I didn’t success on the ice, then I know I have to be better and that’s how life would be.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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