Washington star Evgeny Kuznetsov was sent to the farm club

Washington star Evgeny Kuznetsov was sent to the farm club

In the space of a matter of weeks, the career of Russian center Evgeny Kuznetsov, once considered an NHL star and a colossal contributor to the Washington Capitals' Stanley Cup triumph in 2018, has taken several unexpected and unpleasant turns. In early February, against the backdrop of an unsuccessful game in the regular season, he became a client of the league’s player assistance program, and a month later, having completed it, he was put up by Washington for the so-called waiver draft, after which, having not interested any of the other teams, he was formally sent to the Washington farm club Hershey Bears. However, Kuznetsov still has a chance to continue the season in the NHL, for example, if on Tuesday, before the deadline for player exchanges comes into force, there is still a buyer for the veteran with an expensive contract.

The Washington Capitals announced that sent to his farm club, the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL), 31-year-old Russian center forward Evgeniy Kuznetsov. Washington general manager Brian McLellan, commenting on the decision, said that, in his opinion, Kuznetsov himself wanted to “change the situation” for the sake of a new impulse. This step means another rather dramatic turn in the hockey player’s career, of which several have already happened in recent weeks.

In the previous decade, Evgeni Kuznetsov was considered almost a full-fledged NHL superstar.

Along with outstanding compatriot Alexander Ovechkin, he was one of Washington's key hockey players and made a tremendous contribution to its only Stanley Cup triumph, which took place in 2018. It was Kuznetsov who was the team’s top scorer in that play-off, scoring 32 points in 24 games.

The eight-year contract he signed in 2017 (expires in a season) for a total of $62.4 million speaks well about how highly the Russian was valued by its management. In terms of average annual earnings - $7.8 million - Kuznetsov is second only to Ovechkin and leading defenseman John Carlson.

However, already in the current decade, Evgeny Kuznetsov suddenly gave up.

Having spent the previous season modestly, in which Washington did not make it to the playoffs, he did not improve in the current one. At the end of January, he had only 17 points in 43 matches - the indicator of an ordinary forward from the “lower” link. Since then, Kuznetsov has not played hockey for more than a month. The fact is that at the beginning of February he became a client Player Assistance Program is an assistance program for NHL hockey players, which the league created together with its union, the NHLPA. It provides that any player can turn to specialists hired by the structures to solve problems of a wide variety of nature, for example, related to health or financial situation, if they interfere with the development of his career. The club also has the right to oblige the player to take a course of assistance.

In the case of Kuznetsov, the reasons for the appeal were not officially made public. But all North American media resources, when talking about it, of course, recalled the scandal that happened five years ago. In 2019, Evgeny Kuznetsov took part in the Russian national team at the World Championships in Slovakia. And soon after it turned out that traces of cocaine were found in the hockey player’s doping test. In addition, a video appeared on social networks with Kuznetsov sitting at a table with white powder scattered on it. After the incident, the International Hockey Federation disqualified Evgeniy Kuznetsov for four years. And his career was saved by the fact that the NHL is not accountable to the IIHF, and its anti-doping regulations are much softer - he had to miss only three matches in the North American league.

Evgeny Kuznetsov received the go-ahead to return to Washington last week. However, the club immediately put him up for the so-called waiver draft.

This procedure means that within a day (and if, as in the situation with Kuznetsov, the draft took place on the weekend, two days) any team in the league has the opportunity to pick up a player for minimal monetary compensation. Usually such steps mean that the club no longer needs him. Meanwhile, no one took Kuznetsov from the draft, and Washington sending him to Hershey actually only emphasized his new status - a hockey player not particularly needed by the club, which is desperately fighting to get into the Stanley Cup. At the moment, Washington is fifth in its Metropolitan Division, outside the “playoff zone,” but the team is separated from it by only six points.

However, sending Evgeny Kuznetsov to the American Hockey League does not mean that he has no chance to continue the season in the NHL. Firstly, stories when a player who has “rebooted” into the AHL is reintegrated into the main team are not that uncommon. And secondly, Washington may still have time to exchange Kuznetsov. In any case, Brian McLellan made it clear that the club is “considering all options.” True, he had little time left to organize the exchange. The traditional end-of-season ban on such deals comes into force on Tuesday evening. And Kuznetsov’s expensive contract further complicates the process.

Alexey Dospehov

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