Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov was suspended three games by the NHL in 2019 for “inappropriate conduct.” The league determined that Kuznetsov had misled officials regarding a video that had circulated on social media showing him near a table with two lines of white powder.
Kuznetsov denied using cocaine, the supposed substance in the video, and explained that he had left the room soon after seeing the “strange substances on the table.” The Russian center would later test positive for cocaine while representing the Russian national team at the 2019 World Championships.
Kuznetsov spoke with Russian outlet Slippery Ice about the suspension process and revealed that NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly initially wanted to keep him out of 20 games even though cocaine use is not prohibited in the NHL. The conversation was transcribed into Russian by sports.ru.
“If it weren’t for my desire to apologize to the club for the mistake, then there would probably have been total silence,” Kuznetsov said and as translated via Google Translate. “And so I went to Bettman’s office with [NHLPA reps]. They told me, ‘They can’t punish you at all. Why are you coming here?’ I answered that I had let people down. I should come at least look the person in the eyes, say this and that.
“The [NHLPA reps] say, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll go see Bettman now. Just a conversation between father and son, where they respect morality. Listen, just listen calmly.’ I say, ‘Yes, I’m a normal person, don’t worry.'”
Kuznetsov says he realized quickly into the meeting with the commissioner’s office that he was in for quite the unexpected talking to. “I see that it seems to be a real moral teaching, he said. “I say, ‘No problem, I’m sorry, so and so. I came to you as a human being, on my own, without agents, without anything, I’m sitting alone.’ Bettman says, ‘I respect that, thank you, well done.'”
While the conversation with Bettman seemed to eventually steer in a positive direction, Kuznetsov’s interaction with Daly didn’t go as well. “I think a 20-game [suspension] should be given,” Daly apparently chimed in.
Kuznetsov remarks that he then turned to the NHLPA reps that were with him, who had promised him backup in the conversation, and they were silent. “I see they have a lump in their throat,” Kuznetsov said.
So, Kuzy took matters into his own hands. “Sorry, you probably shouldn’t talk to me about all this,” he says he replied to Daly. “I just came to talk, to show you respect, to show that I just came, I’m not hiding anywhere.
“These [NHLPA reps] – they should have at least interceded, entered into some kind of dialogue,” Kuznetsov said. “It turns out that I just sat for an hour and listened to how I was shit. And, knowing according to the rules that they can’t give me anything, Daly [still] says [20-game suspension]. I said, ‘Well, you probably don’t need to resolve these issues with me.’
“That’s it, I go out, get into a taxi, and tell my agent, ‘That’s it, 20 games.’ And [my agent starts] laughing, ‘Okay, now wait.’ I got on the train, I thought, ‘Well, that’s it, 20 – without hockey at all.’ A little depressed. [Then] my agent calls me and says, ‘Can we make it three games for them?'”
Kuznetsov says he was a little confused and then asked, “In terms of?” His agent then replied, “Well, two games of disqualification is not enough, somehow, let’s have three.” “Yes, whatever,” Kuznetsov responded. “That’s it, from 20 to 3.”
While the NHL really did not have solid ground to suspend Kuznetsov for his actions, the Chelyabinsk native says he took the three-game suspension so that things could end there and not have to get any uglier.
“If they had said more, I would have gone to court, roughly speaking,” Kuznetsov said. “And, since nothing is spelled out in the rules, [we would have won]. Just going to the courts is extra hemorrhoids, extra money.”
Kuznetsov ended up serving his three-game suspension to start that 2019-20 season and returned to the Caps lineup. Those three games were nothing in comparison to the four-year suspension levied upon him by the IIHF for the positive cocaine test due to them classifying the drug as a performance enhancer. Kuznetsov only finished that punishment period out last year.
The playmaking pivot is now eligible to dress for the Russian national team but that possibility is still very much up in the air due to geopolitical issues keeping the country out of sporting tournaments. Both Russian and Belorussian teams are still suspended from any and all IIHF competitions.
“There was four years of silence. And now there is also silence,” Kuznetsov said. “I think that I probably already played my last match for the national team.”
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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