Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov has entered the NHL’s player assistance program, the league announced Monday afternoon.
Under the terms of the program, which is jointly administered by the NHL and the NHL Players Association, Kuznetsov will be unavailable to the Capitals indefinitely while he receives care. His return to the ice will require clearance from the program’s administrators. Established in 1996, the program provides assistance to players dealing with mental health, substance abuse or other issues.
Kuznetsov missed Monday’s practice, the Capitals’ first skate after the all-star break, for personal reasons, according to the team. Asked if he had a timeline of when Kuznetsov might be available, Coach Spencer Carbery said the Capitals would “have an update later.”
Washington recalled center Mike Sgarbossa from its American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pa., on Monday morning, a move that temporarily put the Capitals over the 23-player roster maximum. Kuznetsov will be placed on non-roster status while he is in the program, whichbrings Washington back within the limit. His $7.8 million salary will countagainst Washington’s cap while he is away from the team; with center Nicklas Backstrom on long-term injured reserve, the Capitals have just over $5 million in salary cap space.
“Evgeny’s health and well-being are our top priority, and the organization will continue to support Evgeny and his family during this process,” the team said in a statement.
It has been a difficult season on the ice for Kuznetsov, who has just 17 points in 43 games. Carbery made Kuznetsov a healthy scratch against the Arizona Coyotes in early December, saying at the time that the scratch was intended to be a “a mental reset for him.” Kuznetsov scored a goal in Washington’s next game but has scored just one more since. He recorded two assists in the Capitals’ last game before the all-star break, a 5-4 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars.
Off the ice, the past several years have been complicated for the 31-year-old. He was suspended for three games for “inappropriate conduct” in the fall of 2019 after testing positive for cocaine while representing Russia at the world championships. That suspension earned him a four-year ban from international competition. In the wake of the positive test, Kuznetsov voluntarily entered the NHL’s substance abuse and behavioral health program, which now is called the player assistance program.
Kuznetsov’s name has appeared in trade rumors on multiple occasions over the past several seasons, including a report last March by a Russian TV outlet that he had requested a trade out of Washington.
“I’m happy here. I like the guys. I like everything,” Kuznetsov said at the time. “But you never know. It’s not always on me. I’m always accepting things. I live in reality. I don’t live somewhere else. I don’t blame people, and I’m always trying to work on myself.”
When training camp opened in the fall, Kuznetsov was coy as he again faced questions about his reported trade request. He didn’t confirm that he made the request, but he didn’t outright deny it, either.
“If I would do it, I would probably say that, but it’s very complicated,” he said. “I think I live the way it is right now, that last year was the tough year and there was a lot, a lot of bad thoughts in my head and negativity because I wasn’t happy the way I played. I wasn’t happy the way I performed. I know how can I play and what I can bring to the table. But I wasn’t happy the way I played, and there is frustration, right?
“When you’re frustrated, you’re probably thinking about too much. But for me it was very important to regroup and come back here and enjoy every day.”