Russian NHL players mostly staying silent about Ukraine war

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ARLINGTON, Va. — Russian players in the National Hockey League have remained mostly quiet about their country’s invasion of Ukraine, largely the result of fearing potential fallout back home.

Among the 41 Russia-born players currently in the NHL, only Washington star Alex Ovechkin and Calgary defenseman Nikita Zadorov have weighed in about the war. That list is not expected to grow much, if at all, given the threats that exist in Russia for players and their families.

“It’s difficult for all the Russian players in the league,” said Brian MacLellan, general manager of the Capitals, who have three other Russians on their roster in addition to Ovechkin. “There’s a lot of pressure put on them to have a political opinion either way, and they’re trying to balance out how they live their lives and what their political opinions are and the repercussions that could happen back home. It’s a difficult situation for these guys.”

Several NHLPA-certified agents who represent Russian players spoke with The Associated Press about the challenges for their clients but would not go on the record out of concern the details could lead to negative consequences. They said players have been told not to share opinions about Ukraine because of the political climate back home, where the Russian parliament is considering making it a crime to spread what the government considers fake news about its military efforts in Ukraine.

Agent Dan Milstein represents more than a dozen Russian and Belarusian players who have appeared in an NHL game this season including defending champion Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy. He said he has received threats by email and on social media since telling ESPN many of his clients are dealing with harassment.

“This is just me, the Ukrainian agent, getting this,” said Milstein, who was born in Kyiv and left Ukraine as a political refugee amid the breakup of the Soviet Union. “It has been difficult for some (players). Some guys find refuge by stepping on the ice and playing the game. … But could you imagine stepping on the ice and playing a competitive game thinking that your wife and your newborn child are at home unprotected?”

Ovechkin’s wife, children and parents are in Russia. Longtime Pittsburgh rival Evgeni Malkin’s parents are also there.

Milstein expressed appreciation for the efforts of the league, players’ union, teams and police departments. The NHL said in a statement earlier this week it is “concerned about the well-being of the players from Russia, who play in the NHL on behalf of their NHL clubs, and not on behalf of Russia. We understand they and their families are being placed in an extremely difficult position.”

An NHL spokesman said the league wanted to stand by that statement without elaborating. When contacted, the NHLPA said it has been in communication with the league regarding security measures at both the league and team levels.

Both for Ovechkin, who is a well-known supporter of Vladimir Putin and made a plea for peace, and Zadorov, who posted to Instagram the messages, “NO WAR” and “STOP IT!!!” there has been feedback from many sides. Ovechkin was criticized for not condemning the actions of the Russian president he once campaigned for as part of the “Putin Team,” while Zadorov could be blacklisted from playing for his country’s national team.

The NHL’s lone Russian player who has voiced opposition to Putin, New York Rangers winger Artemi Panarin, erased all elements of that criticism from his Instagram account and made it private.

Agents who spoke to The AP said the majority of the threats made have come on social media and do not think Russian players in North America are in more immediate danger than the general population. Many instead emphasized the threat for players’ friends and family members back home if any speak out against the war.

“It is definitely a concern because it’s a catch-22,” Milstein said. “Hockey players have families at home. They are concerned on both sides of the ocean.”

NHL players have mostly been advised not to talk about the invasion of Ukraine. Ovechkin, a special case given his place as one of the most influential and popular Russian athletes at home and in the U.S capital, said in his public comments: “Please, no more war. It doesn’t matter who is in the war, Russia, Ukraine, different countries. I think we live in a world that we have to live in peace.”

MacLellan made it clear Ovechkin and countrymen Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov have the Capitals’ support.

“They’ve got to balance out a lot of different things,” MacLellan said. “I just think it’s hard for them to figure out where they fit into the two situations and what they can say, what they can’t say and what their true feelings are.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

caufield surgery
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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

matty beniers
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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.