32 Thoughts: As sports world restricts Russia, fallout in hockey still unfolding

Russia players celebrates a win over Germany during the 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. (Jason Franson/CP)

  • Blackhawks entering full rebuild under new regime

  • Sharks taking run at retaining Tomas Hertl

  • Coyotes face tough questions from players

As the Winnipeg Jets brought in Hoosli, a local chorus, to perform the Ukrainian National Anthem before hosting the Canadiens, more sports — including international basketball — announced sanctions against Russia and Belarus.

When biathletes from those countries were not sent as “neutral competitors” to international events, NBC Sports’ Nick Zaccardi reported that meant no one “from Russia or Belarus will compete on the top international level in any Winter Olympic sport the rest of this season.”

Some North Americans chose to terminate their contracts instead of competing in the KHL playoffs, including Kenny Agostino (Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo), Geoff Platt (Salavat Yulaev Ufa) and Nick Shore (Novosirisk Sibir). Contract values dipped as the ruble was pounded in currency markets. 

Beyond the players, the KHL turned off replies to all tweets on its English-language account Tuesday.

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For international hockey, the ban extends through the summer, including the rescheduled World Junior Championships and women’s World Championships. This year’s men’s Worlds are to be moved from Hartwall Arena, which is Russian-owned, in Helsinki. According to a couple of sources, several conversations were underway for future events in Russia, beyond the 2023 World Juniors and World Championships.

All of that is, obviously, on hold. And that’s not changing as the invasion continues. 

Individual situations are trickier. Ukranian tennis player Elina Svitolina agreed to play her match against Anastasia Potopova at the Monterey Open after assurances all Russian “national emblems, flags and colours” would be removed. Governing bodies in F1 (FIA) and swimming (FINA) said they could not ban individual athletes if they competed under no country, flag, anthem or colours. (Swimming Canada announced it would not attend the upcoming World Short-Course Championships this December in Kazan.) 

Other countries want sports federations to put pressure on Vladimir Putin, because they know how much he likes to use sports to show Russian strength.

The NHL’s statement on Monday recognized concern “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.”

However, these individual conversations are coming to hockey. NHL teams are asking if they will be able to sign their Russian prospects who don’t yet have contracts with them. There are questions about visas for next season in both Canada and the United States. Teammate Jeff Marek reported Monday night the Canadian Hockey League will hold an executive call on Wednesday, with “some speculation” Russian and Belarusian players may be excluded from the upcoming import draft, but “nothing has been decided yet.”

The 2021 CHL import draft was held on June 30, so no decisions need to be rushed. 

One agent weighed in, making it known he disagrees with this idea. Dan Milstein was born in Kiev in 1975; 10 years old when Chernobyl melted down, evacuated for three months that summer of 1986. His family left Ukraine for Detroit in 1991, but he’s watched with horror as Russia invaded. 

“These are 16- and 17-year-olds (who would be) discriminated against because they are born in Russia,” Milstein said Tuesday. “I understand both sides of it, that Ukrainians the same age are in danger. But all these kids want to do is play hockey, and forcing them to stay home is exactly what Russia wants.

“This is not punishing a federation, it’s punishing individuals.”


1. Newly hired Chicago GM Kyle Davidson made it clear the Blackhawks are in a full rebuild.

“There’s some things we need to fix that are going to take time,” he said while being introduced on Tuesday. But he did offer up one key hint: Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews “are extremely important pieces to the organizations. They’re definitely going to be brought into the loop. There won’t be any surprises on their end on what we plan on doing with the organization.”

Before Davidson’s official hire, the word out of Chicago was the only way either would be traded was if they wanted to go. (They are one year from unrestricted free agency.) Both will be given a picture of what Davidson is thinking; we will see how they feel. The Blackhawks have been asked about Kane, I can’t imagine anything happening before the summer – assuming anything happens at all.

2. Chicago’s upcoming first-rounder is only top-two protected from the Seth Jones deal. They do have four other picks in the first two rounds. The Blackhawks promised Marc-Andre Fleury nothing would happen without his approval, and I’m not sure he’ll want to go anywhere unless it is a serious contender. I’d be surprised if Alex DeBrincat was traded.

3. As for what will happen around Davidson in the front office, he specifically mentioned former Blackhawk Brian Campbell during the media availability, so you can assume Campbell is staying. Other staff, however, are expecting changes.

I’m not exactly sure how the message was conveyed, but there were rumblings Tuesday that Scott Mellanby – who interviewed for the GM job – was suggested as a possibility for another role. A couple of sources thought Norm Maciver, who left Chicago 14 months ago to join Seattle, might be brought back because of a good relationship with Davidson. Another name to watch is already there: Meghan Hunter, the team’s director of hockey administration and an amateur scout.

4. Best line from Davidson came when he described a day where his wife (Angelica) was annoyed at him: “You might be the GM of the Chicago Blackhawks, but I’m the GM of this house.” Show me a husband who can’t identify with that one.

5. If there was one item from last week’s notes that was disputed, it was that Rasmus Ristolainen is a definite to be traded by the Flyers. There’s work being done to try to sign him. Apparently, a recent offer got things rolling. Let’s see where we go from here. 

6. As promised, San Jose is taking its run at keeping Tomas Hertl.

7. Under-the-radar name to keep an eye on: Noel Acciari. Acciari was hurt in the preseason, had surgery, went on a conditioning stint, got healthy but has only played twice in a deep Florida lineup. Final year of his contract, $1.667 million AAV, 45 games of playoff experience. People like centres.

8. One GM described the rental defence market as “soft,” and a couple of his compatriots concurred. A major reason is that there’s a lot of them, with multiple options from either side. We’ve mentioned before that the early ask was what Columbus got last season for David Savard (a first and a third), but buyers feel they can squeeze the sellers. And I think some will wait to see what happens with Hampus Lindholm.

9. I can see John Klingberg as a Kraken. Maybe not now, but in the summer. He fits what they need.

10. Because Jake Muzzin suffered his second concussion in two months, he’s not going to be rushed back. But Toronto has made it clear that if Muzzin can return before the playoffs, the Maple Leafs will not hold him out simply for the sake of added cap space. That means Toronto is dealing with about $2 million in cap space, and defence is the priority. 

11. Peter DeBoer with his 500th career win on Tuesday night, a strong defensive performance by the Golden Knights in a 3-1 win over San Jose. More importantly for Vegas, Robin Lehner played well, making 16 saves. They need to know he’s healthy.

12. DeBoer was really interesting post-game. He mentioned it was fitting to get the milestone against San Jose, “not for the reasons people think – it’s our rival or the team I got fired from,” but because some of the Sharks on and off the ice were instrumental in accumulating 500 wins.

Asked about the challenges of the COVID era, he answered, “I’ve had conversations with Paul Maurice, who really lost his passion for doing this based on the circumstances the last couple of years. It’s been tough on everybody.” He credited Vegas as a team and Nevada a state for creating an atmosphere conducive to enjoying yourself a little more. “That’s made it easier. That’s what we do this for. If there’s one place that’s been easier to ride this out, it’s been here. For a lot of different reasons. I feel fortunate about that.”

13. Four points in four games for Edmonton, with one coming against Chicago on this trip. The Oilers deserved even better, they’ve been pretty good on this one. Paul Coffey watched a couple of games during the southeastern stretch. Nothing official, but he knows his hockey.

14. Vancouver’s players are sick of the rumours (not that I blame them). They’ve made it very clear. 

15. Calgary’s played seven of its 10 rescheduled games from the COVID-19 disruption. The Flames are 7-0. They’ve got another on March 7, with the last ones on April 18-19.

The Erik Gudbranson-Nikita Zadorov defensive pair is an amazing story, proof that team-building is not just “what a player can do for us,” but also “what plans we have for you.” Is there another defensive pair like this? They’ve got a role and understand it. Last Saturday, they were zipping around the puck like the Globetrotters.

16. Last Saturday, the Arizona players and staff held a meeting with Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez. NHLPA special assistant Mathieu Schneider attended, and I reached out to him after hearing about it. It was intense, with a lot of tough questions. Gutierrez didn’t duck anything, trying to answer as best he could, but, as Schneider said, “There aren’t any good answers for the players in the short term.”

There’s not much the NHLPA can really do to block the move to the small Arizona State arena, but players did ask: “How did it come to this?”

17. There were a lot of questions about next year, with the Coyotes hopeful there wouldn’t be a long road trip to start the season. One of the things players asked is if they’d have to change at the rink and bus to practices. The team said it hopes to know about the proposed arena in Tempe in the next 60 days, with sources estimating it could come up in council in April.

“The average career length is less than five years,” Schneider said. “Ninety per cent of the current Coyotes won’t be here to see (a new arena).”

Schneider added that, during his 1,289-game career, he played in some tough situations (Atlanta, the arena issues on Long Island), so he understands how it affects players. “They have to communicate with their players, early and often. It will be better for the organization in the long term. If they don’t take care of their players, it won’t matter if they get a new building or not.”

It’s still unclear what happens if the arena is not approved.

18. Still to be determined: Will there be protection against any possible revenue losses from going to a smaller venue? I’ve heard from several people who believe the Coyotes will be able to make at least equal, if not more, revenue at Arizona State, but have not seen the modelling.

19. We’ll never know, but I think Avs defenceman Devon Toews would have been on the Canadian Olympic team. What a player he’s turned into. 

20. Tuesday was the first day entry-level contracts could be signed that wouldn’t take effect until 2022-23. That’s why you saw a bit of a flood: free agents Jordan Frasca (OHL Kingston to Pittsburgh), Taylor Gauthier (WHL Portland to Pittsburgh); Tye Kartye (OHL Sault Ste. Marie to Seattle), Bennett MacArthur (QMJHL Acadie-Bathurst to Tampa Bay); Henry Rybinski (WHL Seattle to Washington); along with previously selected Rory Kerins (OHL Sault Ste. Marie/Calgary) and Antonio Stranges (OHL London/Dallas).

One interesting note about Rybinski: He was drafted by Florida and not signed. But a scout who originally advocated for him with the Panthers – Evan Marble – is now with the Capitals.

21. We’re going to start a new segment on the podcast called, “Correcting idiotic misstatements.” Last month, it was saying Buffalo won the Trevor Zegras-Sonny Milano game, for reasons that remain inexplicable. This week, it was all Marek’s fault for saying that when players pose with multiple-goal pucks, they aren’t necessarily the real ones.

Boy did we get blowback on this one, and fast.

One NHL official reached out to say that pucks are switched out after every goal, marked and collected. Winnipeg is one team (there are others, but they were the first I was told about) that sells game-used goal pucks if not requested by themselves or the team they are playing.

22. I don’t want to spoil the interview before it runs, but we’re going to drop a conversation with Slovak scoring sensation Juraj Slafkovsky on Wednesday. He was really fun to talk to. Among the gems he dropped: Tyler Steenbergen, a teammate of his in Turku who played the last three seasons at AHL Tucson, would show him upcoming NHL draft rankings – poking fun at some of the places he was listed. A bit of a motivational tool. But no one is doubting Slafkovsky after a terrific Olympic performance. 

23. Golden Knights’ Alex Pietrangelo was a tremendous guest recently. What others say about him: he’s got some of the best work-life balance in the NHL, and he’s excellent at giving post-career planning advice – although he credits both his father (Joe) and former teammate David Backes for the latter. “It’s nice when you’re making the living that we are, but it doesn’t last forever,” he said. “The further you get into your career … you try and find different interests, try and keep your mind occupied. If I can help just one guy or two guys be a little bit smarter with what they are doing in the future, that’s a win for me.”

What advice does he give them? “It might be something as simple as … Let’s just take a look at your car, for example. You want to buy this specific car? Maybe it’s not the right time to buy that car. Maybe you should wait until the next contract before you spend the money on that thing. It’s easy to start thinking one way, but sometimes you’ve got to step back and look at the bigger picture. You guys know as you get older, all of a sudden you’ve got a mortgage and you have to pay for kids and you’ve got to pay for kids’ school and all of a sudden you’re saying, ‘Maybe back in the day if I could have been a little bit smarter, it would be a little bit different. It’s not really anything too specific. I get questions all the time, sometimes I think I just pretend I’m smarter than I actually am. I always tell guys, ‘If I don’t know the answer, I’ll call somebody and try and find the answer.’ You only can live life through experience and I guess I’m the old guy here, so I try and use my experience.”

24. Pietrangelo doesn’t just talk the talk. Teammates told a great story about the day after St. Louis won the Stanley Cup. He drove to the rink with the trophy in the back of a minivan, a practical vehicle for parents with triplets. “Who else in the NHL,” one said, “would have a minivan?”

“(The night we won), I’ve never seen my dad cry,” Pietrangelo said. “He was tearing up. I’ve never seen my mom (Edy) stay up so late. Or my wife. Or me. We brought the minivan down to the rink. I look back. We’ve got (then-teammate) Michael del Zotto, we’ve got me, there’s two other guys and I’ve got my brother-in-law. And I look in the trunk and there’s the Stanley Cup. Just bouncing around in the back of the minivan.” 

25. As for work-life balance, Pietrangelo takes great pride in it. “That is a compliment, I appreciate people saying that. It takes time, though. Anybody who is a new parent is going to say the same thing. The only thing that people tell you is that it’s not going to be easy. You’ve got to find that routine as a father and as a husband and a wife. I used to take work home all the time. I’m sure a lot of guys say the same thing. When I go home, my kids don’t know if I played well or I played bad. My wife does (laughs). They don’t know the difference, they just want to know Dad. That has really helped me leave work at work, and home is home. My wife (Jayne) is really patient with me, and I owe a lot to her to help me find that balance.”

We actually conducted this part of the interview on Valentine’s Day, and any smart husband was in the mood to continue. “I think it’s made me a better player, and I’ve said that to people before. Finding that balance of being a father has made me a better person and a better player because I can go to the rink every day and I feel refreshed. One, because I wasn’t thinking about hockey at home and two because I can get four kids to school somehow by myself … I couldn’t stand myself if I was (his wife), I’m all over the place.” 

26. Finally, Pietrangelo said Jay Bouwmeester is doing very well, and added the 1,240-game veteran was the one who told him to stop taking every morning skate.

“When I started, it became a thing, that’s what you did every game. Bo said, ‘Why are you going on the ice?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, that’s just what I do.’ (Bouwmeester replied), ‘The game’s tonight, the game’s not this morning.’ Since then, if I don’t have to go on the ice in the morning, I don’t go. People ask me, why? A wise man once told me. Grateful I had the opportunity to play with him.”

27. Craig Anderson is three wins from 300. No doubt he’s grinding to get it and I hope he does.

28. Credit to Ron MacLean for this one. Mason McTavish has played for eight teams in the last year: Olten (Switzerland), Anaheim, AHL San Diego, OHL Peterborough and Hamilton, and Team Canada on three different occasions (Under-18, World Juniors, Olympics). Hope he collects frequent flyer and hotel points. 

29. T.J. Tynan is averaging 1.62 points per game for AHL Ontario – 11 goals and 52 assists in 39 games. That would be the best since 2006-07, when three players beat that: Brandon Bochenski (1.88), Jason Krog (1.82) and Darren Haydar (1.67). 

30. He’s a little older (23), but was happy to hear Alberta’s Noah Philp came roaring back on the Canadian university scene with 11 points in eight games before the Canada West playoffs. Philp missed almost two years due to COVID-19 shutdowns and some personal time. Right-shot centre. Brother Luke plays for AHL Stockton.

31. The Greater Toronto Hockey League Top Prospects game was Tuesday night. Lots of talk about forward Michael Misa of the Mississauga Senators, and if he will get exceptional status in Ontario.

32. Friday will be the 10th anniversary of the launch of the “You Can Play” project. Here’s the first video, from 2012:

Can remember how powerful it was when we first saw it. Two years after Brendan Burke died, brother Patrick formed it with Brian Kitts and Glenn Witman. (Brian Burke is obviously a huge supporter, too.) The Twitter bio says it best: “Athletes should be judged on talent, heart, and work ethic, not sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.” Absolutely right. 

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