ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov has entered the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program, and the team is now preparing for the stretch run of the season without him.
Kuznetsov will be away from the team indefinitely while he receives care. Under the terms of the program, he can return to the team for practice and then games when cleared by administrators.
“There’s not a lot of background of what we know,” coach Spencer Carbery said after the Capitals morning skate Tuesday. “There’s not a lot of background information that they share with us, other than just the fact that he’s in the program. So, for us, as organization, staff, players, it’s just supporting him and his family as he gets the help that he needs.”
Kuznetsov missed practice Monday for what the team said was personal reasons. Because of confidentiality rules, teams are not told details of a player’s absence.
“First and foremost, we’re thinking of Kuz and hope he’s doing well and getting healthy,” veteran winger T.J. Oshie said. “Any time we lose kind of one of those core players to our group, especially these days with one of the players that was here when we had our Cup run, that’s a big hole to fill.”
Kuznetsov was the Capitals’ leading scorer on their 2018 Stanley Cup run, and he has endured many ups and downs since.
In 2019, he was suspended without pay for three regular-season games by the NHL for “inappropriate conduct,” less than a month after he was banned from playing for Russia for four years because of a positive test for cocaine.
He was nearly a point-a-game player in 2021-22, then struggled again in 2022-23. After Kuznetsov’s name was again a part of trade talk last summer, the 31-year-old Russian is in the middle of another disappointing season in Washington with 17 points through 43 games.
His absence nonetheless leaves a void in the middle of the ice.
“There’s no one person that can slide in and do what Kuzy does,” Oshie said. “It’s going to come from a group. It’s going to be important for our centermen as a whole to help with those faceoffs, help with those (penalty kill), power play minutes, to help us out down the middle and the rest of us to make it easy on our centermen because we do know they have a little bit larger of a load than maybe they normally would have.”
The Capitals recalled 31-year-old Michael Sgarbossa from Hershey of the American Hockey League to take Kuznetsov’s spot. Carbery said he spoke with players to address Kuznetsov’s departure, even though what he could say was limited.
“There’s not a lot that I can share, other than just here’s what’s going on with your teammate, your brother, a member of our family,” Carbery said. “It’s a lot of people that are concerned for him and his family, and that’s really where a lot of the conversations and thoughts have gone.”
It’s unclear how long Kuznetsov might be out. He is in the penultimate season of an eight-year, $62.4 million contract.
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