- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 14, 2019

The NHL suspended Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov three games without pay to start the season following a positive test for cocaine at the IIHF World Championships. The league made the announcement Saturday.

Kuznetsov will not appeal the suspension, according to the league. He will miss the Capitals’ first two road games and the home opener Oct. 5 against Carolina. He is eligible to return Oct. 8 for a home game against the Dallas Stars.

In May Kuznetsov tested positive for the drug while playing for the Russian team at worlds, and the IIHF later announced a four-year ban from international competition. The NHL considers cocaine a “drug of abuse” which does not often warrant league punishment.

But before this incident, Kuznetsov was on the record denying ever using illicit drugs after a video leaked showing him in a Las Vegas hotel room sitting next to a table that appeared to have lines of cocaine.

That insincerity may have factored into the NHL’s decision. Kuznetsov met with commissioner Gary Bettman Monday before the league announced its punishment for “inappropriate conduct.” Neither cocaine nor drug abuse in general was mentioned in the NHL’s press release.

Kuznetsov released a statement saying that he disappointed his family, teammates and the team and that he would “do everything in my power to win you back with my actions both on and off the ice.”

He later met with reporters.

“There’s a lot of people who are supporting me and I’m going to appreciate it and as a hockey player, the only chance to say thanks to them is to prove on the ice,” Kuznetsov told reporters.

The 27-year-old said he’s learned to be a father to his two children and to stay off social media more.

“I don’t know, it just feels like I spend a lot of time over there, watching some pictures or whatever and then you get so addicted to some comments or people, you know?” he said. “I was focusing more on spending the time with the family and the kids, just getting away from that. It’s actually pretty nice to get away from that.”

Coach Todd Reirden said it will be “a career-defining time” for Kuznetsov, whose production slipped off last year when he posted just 72 points.

“It’s important that I’m there for him, but I also make sure that I understand that he’s accountable for what’s happened and realizing that how he reacts to this adversity is what’s important to me,” Reirden said. “Whether you’re dealing with your son at home or you’re dealing with young players, for me this is life-changing stuff that we have here, not just for himself but the way that he can impact younger players on our team.”

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