Capitals put Evgeny Kuznetsov on waivers after he was cleared to practice again

NEW YORK — The Washington Capitals put Evgeny Kuznetsov on waivers on Saturday, a surprising move that came hours after the mercurial center was cleared by the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program to resume practicing.

Kuznetsov spent the past month receiving care in the program. General manager Brian MacLellan said waiving the 31-year-old Russian is a means to an end to give Kuznetsov the change of scenery he’s been wanting.

“It’s about a fresh start for Kuzy,” MacLellan said. "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.”

With one year left on his contract and $8 million owed to him, Kuznetsov would seem unlikely to be claimed by another team. MacLellan expects Kuznetsov to be assigned to Hershey of the American Hockey League if he clears.

It's unclear if Kuznetsov would report. A message sent to his agent seeking comment was not immediately returned.

No matter what, the next game Kuznetsov plays almost certainly will not be with the Capitals, which would have seemed crazy six years ago when he was their leading scorer on their Stanley Cup run but became more realistic in recent offseasons when he was a frequent subject of trade rumors given his inconsistent performance.

“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.”

Kuznetsov struggled this season before going into the player assistance program, putting up just 17 points in 43 games.

In 2019, he was suspended without pay for three regular-season games by the NHL for “inappropriate conduct.” That came 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.



Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press