Kuznetsov tested positive for cocaine while representing the Russian national team at the World Championships on May 26 and received a four-year suspension from the International Ice Hockey Federation in August as a result. His period of international ineligibility ends on June 12, 2023. The ban did not affect the Capitals, who he is under contract with through the 2024–25 season, and his NHL suspension is entirely separate.
Kuznetsov released a statement following the decision, apologizing to his family, fans and teammates.
"I have decided to accept the NHL's suspension today. I am once again sorry that I have disappointed my family, my teammates, and the Capitals organization and fans," Kuznetsov said. "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."
The 27-year-old center appeared in a now-deleted Twitter video in May that showed him near a table with two lines of white powder. Kuznetsov denied using cocaine and explained that the video was taken during the summer of 2018 when Washington won the Stanley Cup. He said he went to meet up with friends and left soon after seeing "strange substances on the table."
The IIHF considers cocaine a performance-enhancing drug. The NHL does not. The league didn’t initially announce any discipline for Kuznetsov, it did set up a meeting with Commissioner Gary Bettman to review his conduct. The issue at hand was not the cocaine usage but that Kuznetsov apparently misled league officials after the video circulated on social media, issuing a statement denying that he ever used drugs. The NHL investigated the incident but closed its review within a few days, saying it didn't question his account of the event. The Capitals also issued a statement deeming the matter closed.
The three-game suspension was announced after Bettman met with Kuznetsov in New York on Monday, Sept. 9.
Per The Washington Post, Kuznetsov still maintains that he did not take drugs the night the video was taken.
Kuznetsov scored 21 goals in 76 games in 2018–19. The Capitals finished the regular season at 48-26-8, but fell to Hurricanes in the first round of the playoffs.