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Kuznetsov aims to win back trust of Capitals, fans after three-game ban

Center remorseful following suspension by NHL for inappropriate conduct

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Evgeny Kuznetsov vowed to let his play and his actions demonstrate his remorse and appreciation for those supporting him after the NHL on Saturday suspended the Washington Capitals center three regular-season games for inappropriate conduct.

Kuznetsov tested positive for cocaine May 26 at the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia, where he was playing for Russia, and was suspended from international competition for four years as a result. The NHL suspension came after Kuznetsov and NHL Players' Association representatives met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in New York on Monday.

"I want to say more than thanks to my teammates, to the organization for their support, but there is not a word in the language that means more than thanks, right?" Kuznetsov said in his first comments to the media since the IIHF announced the positive test Aug. 23. "But I can do more to prove that there was the support for a reason, to be downtown every night and do my best for the team."


[RELATED: Kuznetsov suspended three games for inappropriate conduct]


Kuznetsov, who voluntarily entered the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program, run by the NHL and the NHL Players' Association, said he won't appeal either suspension. The 27-year-old will miss the Capitals season opener at the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 2, their game at the New York Islanders on Oct. 4, and their home opener against the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 5.

Kuznetsov will be eligible to play his first regular-season game when Washington hosts the Dallas Stars on Oct. 8. He has participated in the first two days of training camp practices and is permitted to play in preseason games.

"It was a pretty hard summer for me," Kuznetsov said. "I've been dreaming about the first day of camp so I can be with the team, I can send a message by my body language to all the people. Whatever's happening in your life, you just still respect the people and you treat the people with respect."

Kuznetsov declined to discuss details of the incident at the world championship, repeatedly referencing a statement he released through the Capitals earlier in the day and saying he is focused on moving forward.

"I have decided to accept the NHL's suspension today," Kuznetsov said in the statement. "I am once again sorry that I have disappointed my family, my teammates, and the Capitals organization and fans. I promise to do everything in my power to win you back with my actions both on and off the ice. I also understand that I am fortunate to have an opportunity to make things right. Thanks to the Capitals, NHL and NHLPA, I have taken many steps in the right direction and I'm confident that I will continue on that path. 

"I am grateful for everyone's support and I'm looking to move forward from this point. While I can appreciate that people may have additional questions, I will not be commenting further on this matter."

Video: TBL@WSH: Kuznetsov ties it late with 100th NHL goal

Capitals coach Todd Reirden said he believes the suspension and Kuznetsov's actions that led to it can be a turning point. Kuznetsov is coming off an inconsistent season, when he had 72 points (21 goals, 51 assists) in 76 games and six points (one goal, five assists) in seven Stanley Cup Playoff games. 

That came after his 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in 24 playoff games led the NHL and helped Washington win the Stanley Cup in 2018.

"I think it's a career-defining time in his life," Reirden said. "I think he's probably a little bit relieved to just be able to move past it and realized that the League has made the decision that they want to make and they have made. 

"Now we can get totally moving forward. … [His] and my relationship is one that it's important that I am 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."

Kuznetsov spent most of the offseason in the Washington area after his wife, Anastasia, gave birth to the couple's second child, a son, Fedor. He used that time to train, reflect and spend time with Fedor and daughter Ecenia.

"I spend more time with my family, with the kids and I'm just trying to focus more on the practice," Kuznetsov said. "It's been kind of hard to prove [to] some people something when you're in the summer because we don't have a hockey game, and the only thing I can do best is play hockey."

The average annual value of Kuznetsov's contract ($7.8 million) will not count against the NHL salary cap while he is suspended, giving the Capitals some needed flexibility. 

Washington is over the $81.5 million cap for 2018-19, and general manager Brian MacLellan said in August the Capitals probably will have to trade someone to get under the cap before opening night rosters are set Oct. 1.

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