The NHL’s Evgeny Kuznetsov will not be eligible to play for his native Russia for the next four years after testing positive for cocaine. He will be able to play internationally starting June 12, 2023.

Kuznetsov failed a drug test while playing in the World Championships shortly before suiting up to play against Czechoslovakia. The governing body of the Ice Hockey World Championships, The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), administered the test on May 26, yet the statement on banning Kuznetsov for four years did not come until August 23, and will be retroactive to June 13.

The IIHF, comprised of 76 worldwide member associations “presides over ice hockey in the Olympic Games, and over the IIHF World Championships at all levels, men, women, juniors under-20, juniors under-18 and women under-18,” according to its website. Being banned from IIHF-regulated events not only covers World Championships, but will also cover the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The NHL has yet to release a statement of their own, yet on their website, a post from Kuznetsov’s team, the Washington Capitals, appeared today:

“We are aware of the positive test result and related international sanction that has been imposed on Evgeny Kuznetsov. We are disappointed with this development and take this occurrence seriously. We understand that Evgeny has voluntarily sought help through the education and counseling program provided for in the NHL/NHLPA collective bargaining agreement and has agreed to a regular testing protocol relating to his involvement with that program. In addition, we are committed to ensuring he has the necessary support required to work through this situation. We will remain in contact with the NHL as they determine the next steps. Because of the sensitive nature surrounding this matter, there will be no further comment from us at this time.”

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The NHL has not in recent times taken the same stance on cocaine as the IIHF. From the 2018-2019 list of suspensions in the NHL, only two suspensions have been for drugs, one of which was for performance enhancing drugs (20 games), the other for alcohol-abuse related issues (length dependent on treatment). Yet a statement by the NHL was made after an investigation on cocaine usage. In 2015, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told TSN in an interview, “The number of [cocaine] positives are more than they were in previous years and they’re going up. I wouldn’t say it’s a crisis in any sense. What I’d say is drugs like cocaine are cyclical and you’ve hit a cycle where it’s an ‘in’ drug again.”

In this interview, it became clear that the NHL has a difference stance than the IIHF. The NHL instead makes a distinction between “performance enhancing drugs” and “recreational drugs” or “drug abuse.” The NHL focuses more on “treatment” in the case of recreational drugs. Austin Watson, the player who was suspended for alcohol abuse, was not suspended as punishment for ‘cheating’ as has been labeled for PED users, but instead was put in a program for rehabilitation.

Kuznetov issued a statement accepting responsibility and said he would not fight the suspension.

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