Kuznetsov must pay price for lying to fans

Chris Russell
August 25, 2019 - 4:26 pm
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Evgeny Kuznetsov is in hot water once again. Only this time he made himself look ten times worse than he did in late May, if not more. 

He also made the Washington Capitals and the National Hockey League look awful, too. 

For that transgression, more than any other, in an image-driven world, Kuznetsov should pay a heavy price. 

Kuznetsov tested positive for cocaine on May 26 according to the International Ice Hockey Federation, resulting in a four-year suspension from international play.

DETAILS: Kuznetsov suspended by IIHF for cocaine

Many Capitals fans and colleagues of mine had a quick, immediate reaction to this news: "It doesn't matter" or "who cares" were a few of the phrases tossed around. 

They have a point. If I'm being totally honest, I only care about the Capitals. And while players certainly care about playing international hockey and representing their country, Caps fans are only interested in winning another Stanley Cup.

However, no matter how many times fans say it doesn't matter, Kuznetsov's positive test for cocaine absolutely has a major effect on the Caps.

Kuzy will have a face-to-face meeting with NHL Commission Gary Bettman before training camp next month. And in a statement issued Friday by Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, the league made clear, "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."

UH-OH! 

Daly also pointed out that while cocaine is not a performance-enhancing drug and not explicitly prohibited, the NHL considers it a "drug of abuse." Under the CBA, the league does test for drugs of abuse but focuses more on treatment and a positive test can result in "intervention, evaluation and mandatory treatment" in certain cases. 

The league's statement noted Kuznetsov voluntarily has agreed to both the meeting with Bettman and sought help through the education and counseling program the league offers. Those are both important for Kuznetsov because he seems to be admitting he has a problem, is seeking help, and is open to solving his issues. 

If Kuznetsov had refused, or doubled-down on denying drug use, he would have an enormous problem on his hands. Now, Kuznetsov just has a single huge one. 

First and foremost, he has to get healthy and not a single one of us can dismiss that or treat it lightly. While we don't know the level of Kuznetsov's problem, addiction and dependency is a beast that often rages out of control. 

MORE: What should Caps do about Kuznetsov?

Still – even with Kuznetsov apparently willing to seek help for himself now – the door is not shut to the league or the Capitals to punish the talented Caps forward. 

Why would the league do that? Because Kuznetsov flat out lied in a statement issued by the Capitals on May 31 when he said, "I have never taken illegal drugs in my life and career."

The embarrassing part of that statement: It was released five days after cocaine was found in a doping control test by the IIHF.

The Caps said they did their own "due diligence" in May after a video was posted on social media showing the forward in a hotel room near lines of white powdery substance and a rolled-up bill. And they accepted Kuznetsov's "explanation and apology for putting himself in an unfortunate situation."

The NHL issued a similar statement: "While we certainly do not condone or endorse some of the decisions he made on the night in question, Mr. Kuznetsov's account of the events that transpired aligns with other information we have been able to gather."

We do not know what Kuznetsov told the Capitals or the NHL about his cocaine use during their investigations. But why would the Capitals issue a statement on Kuznetsov's behalf that contained an obvious lie? It makes zero sense.

And when Kuznetsov said, "I have never taken illegal drugs in my life and career" less than a week after he tested positive for them (whether he knew he tested positive at the time or not), Kuznetsov one hundred percent knew he had used cocaine in the past.

Kuznetsov decided to simply lie to Caps fans.

Did he lie to his employer and the NHL, too? We don't know the answer to that, but we know for sure Kuznetsov made the Capitals look bad for believing his story. And he made both the league and the Caps look bad for their seemingly perfunctory investigations into the video.

Kuznetsov needs treatment and help for any drug issue, but he needs to be punished for the lie he told. This may seem harsh, but that is the reality. 

Of course, the Capitals and NHL may decide to let it slide. If I were his employer, Kuznetsov would be suspended for a minimum of ten games for something similar to "conduct unbecoming" or for a violation of trust. 

If the organization and the league really want to help Kuznetsov, there needs to be a serious starting point. 

Get well, Kuzy. But remember, you represent yourself, the Capitals, the NHL and millions of fans. That's a responsibility and a privilege.

"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," Kuznetsov said in a statement Friday. "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."

The words are a start. For Kuznetsov, now comes the hard part.

Follow Chris Russell on Twitter. 

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