On Friday, August 23rd, 2019 the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) suspended Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov for four (4) years for a violation of World Anti-Doping Code Article 2.1 (Presence of a Prohibited Substance).
Per the IIHF statement the following was released:
The case concerns a test indicating a prohibited substance, cocaine, according to section S6.a (non-specified substance) of the World Anti-Doping Code 2019 Prohibited List. The prohibited substance was found in a doping control which occurred on 26 May 2019 at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
It was also revealed that Kuznetsov’s B-sample did not require any analysis, and that he became provisionally suspended on June 13th, 2019.
Some Back Story
Back on Monday May 27th, 2019 a video was posted by user @Thesavspb that showed Kuznetsov in a hotel room with several lines of what appeared to be cocaine. In a statement that day to Sport Express (a Russian news outlet) Kuznetsov acknowledged the video and when it was shot, which was the summer of 2018 when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in Vegas. Also in his statement to Sport Express Kuznetsov also claimed to have “never used drugs and have no intention to get into it.”
Both the Washington Capitals and the NHL conducted investigations and on May 31st the NHL cleared Kuznetsov of any wrong doing, but made it clear that the League did not “condone or endorse some of the decisions” Kuznetsov made on the night in question. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly also said that “Mr. Kuznetsov’s account of the events that transpired aligns with other information we have been able to gather, and we have found no basis to question his representations with respect to what did — and what did not — occur.”
The League would consider the matter closed.
What Does The IIHF Ban Mean?
With the four year ban by the IIHF, Kuznetsov will be ineligible to play in any International Hockey events until June 12th, 2023 when his suspension will expire. Tournaments including the Olympics and the World Championships will have Kuznetsov listed as an ineligible participant.
However, the IIHF’s ban does not affect Kuznetsov’s ability to play in the NHL for the Capitals or his ability to play in the potentially returning World Cup of Hockey as that is run by the NHL and NHLPA, independent of the IIHF.
What Will the Capitals and NHL Do?
This is where it will get interesting. After the IIHF announcement the NHL Releaased the following statement:
“We have been fully briefed by the IIHF with respect to the positive test
result and related international sanction that has been imposed on Washington
Capitals’ Player Evgeny Kuznetsov.
“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. 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.
“Here, we understand that Mr. Kuznetsov has voluntarily sought help
through the education and counseling program provided for in the NHL and
NHLPA collective bargaining agreement and has agreed to a regular testing
protocol relating to his involvement with that program.
“Mr. Kuznetsov has also agreed to an in-person meeting with Commissioner Gary Bettman to discuss his situation and review his conduct prior to the start of Training Camp preceding the 2019-20 season. We intend to reserve further comment on any additional actions that may or may not be taken with respect to today’s announcement (disciplinary or otherwise) pending the completion of the Commissioner’s meeting with Mr. Kuznetsov.”
The key takeaway from this statement from the League is that Kuznetsov has voluntarily seeked help through the NHL and NHLPA provided education and counseling program. Shortly after the League’s statement both the Capitals and Kuznetsov made statements.
“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.”
From this statement we have to commend Kuznetsov for accepting what has been handed to him, and accepting the responsibility for his actions.
“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 understand that Evgeny has voluntarily sought help through the education and counseling program provided for in the NHL/NHLPA collective bargaining agreement and has agreed to a regular testing protocol relating to his involvement with that program. In addition, 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.”
As seen in the Capitals statement they state some of the same facts as the NHL’s, and note that they will remain in contact with the League as they determine what steps will need to be taken in Kuznetsov’s case.
Now going back to the NHL statement, it was noted that prior to the start of Training Camp Kuznetsov will meet with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in an in-person meeting to discuss his situation. The League does hold the right to discipline Kuznetsov if they deem necessary. However, that could be trickier than one can think.
For one the drug test was conducted by the IIHF and not by the NHL, and unlike with the IIHF, in the NHL cocaine is not considered a performance enhancing drug so it would not fall under the Prohibited Substance list for the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program like we saw with Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt last fall when he was suspended 20 games for his first offense for a drug test failed under the NHL’s drug testing. Also, cocaine is not something that is tested for though the League has acknowledged that they have seen the number of positive tests for cocaine rise in the past few years.
The one thing that could cause a lot of problems for Kuznetsov is the meeting he had with the League back in May when the video was released. It raises many questions in regards to what Kuznetsov said in that meeting and if he lied to both the League and to the Capitals during that investigation. So depending on what comes out of the in-person meeting with Bettman we could see Kuznetsov suspended for a certain amount of time depending on what the League and the team feel is necessary.
This is an interesting one, that’s for sure. What will come of Kuznetsov we will find out in the upcoming weeks as NHL Training Camps prepare to begin, and it’ll be interesting to see what both the League and the Capitals decide to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some sort of suspension of like 10 games, but nothing excessive unless something comes up that would warrant it to be longer.
For now all we can do is specualte and wait, and wait we shall.
Written By: Michael Lindenbaum
Contributions By: Steve Gardiner