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How the War in Ukraine Will Affect Russian Players in the NHL and Other Fields

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the NHL’s Russian-born players have dealt with uncertainty, concerns about the safety and health of loved ones back home, and harassment from fans. Some were expected to speak to .

The league also faces complex issues such as volatile cross-border travel and managing international relations.

As one NHL GM puts it simply, “There’s an elephant in the room right now.”

Another GM added: “This is a complicated situation and, frankly, many of us are not qualified to speak. kept away from public view.”

Here are some of the dynamics going on behind the scenes in the NHL as the war continues.

The lives of NHL players

After the invasion last season, many Russian players completely refused to speak to the media. If a Russian player spoke up, it was mostly in agreement with journalists that they “do not ask questions about Russia.”

Forty Russian-born players made the opening night roster in the NHL. (There are currently no Ukrainian-born players in the league.)

Locker rooms have reopened to media this season, making these players more accessible.

“The media want us to tell them to fit their story,” Player said. , you don’t really understand what’s going on.If I say I’m proud of where I’m from and love being Russian, I’m portrayed as the bad guy. –even if you don’t support war.

That’s why the player said it’s easiest not to say anything. He also noted that the topic of war was not brought up by teammates in the locker room or on road trips, saying, “We’re just focused on our job and that’s hockey.”

“People want [our players] But in the same way that we avoid conversations about religion and politics on Thanksgiving, we don’t teach anyone how to think politically. ”

The biggest concern for Russian players is their own safety and the safety of their families. According to some sources, some teams, especially those with strong resources, are doing things behind the scenes to support Russian players. and relocation assistance.

The war has not impacted the contracts of current NHL players, but it has impacted overall revenues. For example, the equipment manufacturer’s CCM has stopped using Russian players in all global marketing campaigns. Few brands are looking to do new business with the Russian-born player as they wait for the climate to settle, according to several NHL marketing agents.・With Ovechkin closing in on Gordy Howe on the all-time scoring charts, the marketing is expected to revitalize.

Ovechkin was a hot topic throughout the war, given his vocal support for Vladimir Putin and the fact that he is still seen with Putin in his Instagram profile picture. However, those closest to Ovechkin argue that the dynamics of one of Russia’s most famous athletes are complicated and that there are still concerns for his family back home.

Russian athlete’s journey

Despite the unpredictability of travel restrictions, no NHL team prevented the Russian-born player from returning home this summer, sources said. How are you going to tell a guy like that?” said one general manager. “But I think a lot of us were holding our breath, just to make sure we didn’t have any hiccups.”

The visa reapplication process has become much more complicated and time consuming than in previous years.

The U.S. consulate in Moscow stopped issuing visas, causing headaches for many Russian-born players as they flew to other countries to get their documents approved. But, as one agent put it, “It was with the U.S. government – they’re the ones who made it harder.”

When the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators opened their season in Prague as part of the NHL Global Series, the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs initially told the league that Russian players would not be welcome because of the war in Ukraine.

From GM Mike Greer to captain Logan Couture, the Sharks have officially taken a tough line: if the Russians can’t go, the whole team won’t go.

The Czech government eventually dropped its attempted ban. Yakov Trenin of the Predators and Alexander Balabanov and Evgeny Svechnikov of The Sharks all played in Prague. According to people close to the players, they didn’t feel any animosity and were even asked for pictures and autographs by fans during the trip.

at league level

The NHL blamed the Russian government shortly after the February invasion and ended all business ties in Russia, including Russian-language websites, media and sponsorship deals. League officials were also quick to distinguish the Russian government’s actions from the league’s Russian players.The NHL said it would support its players, including adding additional security, which it continues this season. .

The NHL and NHLPA are working with the IIHF to host the Hockey World Cup in February 2024. The IIHF has banned Russian international events, but the NHL and NHLPA are hopeful that a solution can be found, including hosting Russian players. Compete under a neutral name or flag. However, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said other participating countries did not find it satisfactory and insisted on not allowing Russian athletes to participate at all.

“Playing in this tournament is very personal for Russian players, especially since the NHL has not competed in the last two Olympics,” said agent Dan, who represents the majority of Russian players in the NHL. Milstein told ESPN. “We will work closely with everyone involved to find a solution here. We will fight to the end. This is a very important issue for our players and they It is absolutely unfair not to include

KHL problem

One of the NHL’s concerns is its relationship with the Continental Hockey League, a league that includes teams from several countries, mostly based in Russia. Widely regarded as the second best hockey league in the world, the KHL has had a good relationship with the NHL. The NHL was considering sending a team to Russia for an exhibition game or reintroducing a KHL/NHL crossover event. These talks are pending indefinitely and the league is terminating all business ties with Russia.

The KHL and NHL had a “memorandum of understanding” that required each league to honor each other’s player contracts. “I’d love to see what happens this season,” Daly told ESPN in August. “I don’t really know which way yet.”

One NHL executive presented the following scenario.

Ivan Fedotov

One player in particular caught up in the geopolitical turmoil: Flyers prospect Ivan Fedotov, who was expected to compete for Philadelphia’s backup goaltending position this season. Fedotov is considered an extension of the Russian army last season in the KHL where he played for CSKA Moscow. Fedotov said he signed a contract with the Flyers in May, and two months later, while skating at a rink in St. Petersburg, the SWAT team arrested him and sent him to a military base in Severomorsk. . In Russia all men from the age of 18 to the age of 27 must serve in the military unless they have an official exemption, which is usually university studies. Fedotov was detained on grounds of military flight.

The Washington Post’s Russia correspondent, Mary Ilyushina, told ESPN, “This kind of kidnapping and sending to Arctic bases has been used as retaliation against Russian opposition forces.” It may not have anything to do with it, but rather with abandoning the Russian club and switching to the American club.”

Fedotov hired an army lawyer, who reported that Fedotov had received “some kind of injection” and was hospitalized. Fedotov was then transferred to another base. His defense team dropped an appeal against his evasive charge and sources say he will be released after his one-year military service and will come to the United States to begin his NHL career. would like to be allowed to

This is a case the league is following closely as it may be the first time the NHL-KHL MoU has been breached. Given CSKA Moscow’s military ties, Fedotov could be asked to play for his CSKA Moscow.

One general manager said he was less worried about established veterans, but more worried about promising players and young players in the league. said GM. “And of course there’s a real concern now — we’ve had it for years, but it’s been gone lately — about getting them here and signing a contract.”

Draft and Russian Prospects

Many in the scouting community predicted the Russian would be barred from the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft for the first time since 2005. However, three Russian players were selected in the first round in July: Pavel Minchukov (Anaheim Ducks, No. 10), Ivan Miroshnichenko (Washington Capitals, No. 20) and Danila Yurov. (Minnesota Wild, No. 24). It’s much easier for NHL teams to draft players who are already playing in North America, like Minyukov and Yurov, who were in the Ontario Hockey League.

Miroshnichenko is at higher risk. He was once predicted as a lottery pick, citing that he was still playing in Russia’s second division last season and will miss the 2022-23 season after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Declined. The Capitals saw his draft selection as a gamble, but the advantage was too great to pass up.

Matvei Michkov is considered a top three pick in the 2023 Draft, and it will be interesting to monitor his inventory as he plays for KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg this season. Some NHL teams have recruited scouts from Russia, but some teams may have payroll consultants, so it’s difficult to gauge how many organizations have a Russian presence. Be that as it may, Michikoff goes an entire season with very few people eyeing him from the NHL organization. The scouts say it helps that Mitchkov has played in well-attended tournaments over the past two years, including the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup and the 2021 World Juniors in Texas.

Michikov is under contract with the KHL until the 2025-26 season. “At those tournaments, he looked like a world-class talent,” said one veteran amateur scout. “But I wouldn’t be shocked if there was a sharp drop simply because of circumstances.”