- - Sunday, August 25, 2019

If you are a Washington Capitals fan, you should be going over last year’s embarrassing first-round Stanley Cup playoffs exit and wondering about the condition of Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was suspended last week by the International Ice Hockey Federation for four years after a positive cocaine test.

Was Kuznetsov suffering the effects of drug use in that 5-0 Game 3 debacle defeat by the Carolina Hurricanes, when he seemed helpless to either shoot the puck or to stop a barrage of uncontested scoring chances?

What about with his team leading the series 3-2, the Game 6 loss to Carolina, a 5-2 defeat, or the elimination loss in double overtime, 4-3?

Kuznetsov was missing-in-action in that series, after leading the Capitals to the Stanley Cup championship the year before with a spectacular postseason performance.

“It’s all about the happiness when you win and when you lose, it hurt,” he told reporters. “That’s probably when you go next time on the ice, you don’t want to feel that again. That’s probably the biggest lesson.”

Really? The biggest lesson?

What about the drug use? Was it drug use? Well, was it?

It’s a question on the table now because of a positive cocaine test.

The testing resulted from the controversy surrounding a video that surfaced on social media a few weeks after the Capitals were beaten by the Hurricanes. The video shows Kuznetsov in a hotel room with two lines of white powder and a rolled up dollar bill on a table close by. There is no video of him using drugs or having any connection, other than proximity.

Kuznetsov denied any wrongdoing and told the Russian news agency Sport Express he “had nothing to hide.”

Then he arrogantly pulled a Rafael Palmeiro, who once waved his finger testifying before Congress on steroids and declared “I have never used steroids. Period.” Six weeks later, Palmeiro failed a drug test for performance-enhancing substances.

Kuznetsov dared them to give him a drug test. “I never took drugs,” he told Sport Express. “Give me a drug test and I’ll pass it,”

So he was tested at the IIHF world championships in Slovokia, a little more than four weeks after the playoff loss to Carolina. He failed, and the IIAF came down hard on the Russian star with a four-year suspension from international play.

The National Hockey League doesn’t have the same rules. They don’t consider a drug like cocaine a performance-enhancing substance, and instead of discipline, they opt for with programs and rehabilitation opportunities. “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,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement by the league. “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.”

Kuznetsov has agreed to enter the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program run by the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association and will have to meet with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

Kuznetsov issued this statement in response to his suspension: “Recently, the IIHF notified me that, due to a positive test for a banned substance, I would be suspended from international competition for four years. I have made the decision to accept this penalty. Representing my country has always been so close to my heart and something I take so much pride in. Not being able to put that sweater on for four years is very hard to take. I have disappointed so many people that are important to me, including my family, teammates and friends. From the first day I took the ice in D.C., the Washington Capitals organization and our fans have been nothing but great to me and my family. I feel absolutely terrible for letting you down. I realize that the only way I can win you back is to take ownership of my situation and my actions from this point forward.”

I think it’s good that the NHL opts for treatment rather than discipline when it comes to use of such drugs — and addiction.

Is Kuznetsov addicted? We don’t know. He boastfully lied publicly, and put his job and future at risk. I hope he gets the help he needs and comes back to be the superstar everyone was expecting this past season.

The Capitals followed up with their own statement: “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 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.”

That’s fine, but at some point the Capitals and Kuznetsov owe their fans an explanation about what happened on the ice while they were defending their Stanley Cup championship.

Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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