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With Evgeny Kuznetsov on waivers, Caps see a chance for a ‘fresh start’

With Evgeny Kuznetsov on waivers, Caps see a chance for a ‘fresh start’

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

On Saturday morning, the NHL announced that center Evgeny Kuznetsov had been cleared to return to practice. By Saturday afternoon, the Washington Capitals had placed him on waivers.

“I think it’s about a fresh start for Kuzy, first of all,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said. “I think he’s been looking for a change in an environment, and I think this might set the wheels in motion for that to be accomplished.”

Kuznetsov had been away from the Capitals since the all-star break; he entered the NHL’s player assistance program Feb. 5, the day Washington returned. Although the center was cleared to practice, he has not yet been cleared to resume game action. Under the terms of the program, which is jointly administered by the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association, Kuznetsov is in the follow-up care phase and can begin his reintroduction to team activities.

“They don’t give us the details of the program or the post-care instructions, but I think he has certain things that he has to accomplish within that program, whatever they are,” MacLellan said. “And if he stays in compliance with those restrictions, he gets to play.”

It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that Kuznetsov will begin that reintroduction to team activities with Hershey, Washington’s American Hockey League affiliate. MacLellan said if Kuznetsov clears waivers, which is probable given his $7.8 million annual salary (through 2024-25) and his struggles on the ice (six goals and 11 assists in 43 games this season), he will be assigned to Hershey. It is unclear whether Kuznetsov would report to the AHL. MacLellan said he has not discussed that with Kuznetsov or his agent.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Kuznetsov with Washington this season — or for the past several years. Off the ice, he was suspended for three games for “inappropriate conduct” in 2019 after he tested positive for cocaine while representing Russia at the world championships, leading to his first stint in the player assistance program.

On the ice, Kuznetsov was a healthy scratch in early December, a move Capitals Coach Spencer Carbery said he made to provide a “mental reset” for the 31-year-old. Kuznetsov scored in Washington’s next game but added just one more goal in the ensuing 23.

As trade deadline nears, Capitals are trying to ‘thread a needle’

Kuznetsov’s name also has appeared in trade rumors on multiple occasions over the past several seasons, including a report last March by a Russian outlet that he had requested a move.

“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 the Capitals reconvened for training camp this past fall, Kuznetsov was coy about the reported trade request; he didn’t confirm it but also didn’t deny it. On Saturday, MacLellan stopped short of stating that Kuznetsov has asked for a trade, but he reiterated several times that Kuznetsov and his camp are seeking a change of scenery.

“I think we have a history here that’s gone on for a while, and I think it’s frustrating on both sides,” MacLellan said. “It’s just an opportunity for our side, too, to start fresh and try to get him an opportunity to continue his career.”

The next step of Kuznetsov’s path will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday, when it will be made public whether he was claimed by another team or passed through waivers. If he goes unclaimed, Kuznetsov can be assigned to Hershey. After that, the Capitals will have additional decisions to make, including the potential of buying out the final season of his contract in the offseason.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” MacLellan said. “Right now, we have the trade deadline on Friday, so we’re looking to see if we can make something happen before then and go from there.”

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