Flyers, NHL relationship with Russia breeds growing concern

Flyers' Ivan Fedotov
February 20, 2022, Beijing, Hebei, China: PESONEN Harri of Finland #82 shoots but is stopped by goalie FEDOTOV Ivan of Russia during the Ice Hockey Men’s Gold Medal Game between Finland and Russian Olympic Committee on February 20th in Beijing, China. (Photo by Mickael Chavet/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire) ****NO AGENTS—NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA SALES ONLY****

When the 2022 NHL Draft begins in Montreal, the eyes are not going to be on just will go first overall. They’re also looking elsewhere. We may get an indication of how lightly the NHL is treading, particularly with Russian-born players.

There’s good reason, with some NHL general managers suggesting current players not return to Russia over the off-season. Players like Alex Ovechkin, Kirill Kaprizov, and Ivan Fedotov all went back. Now, two of those are proving there are serious concerns.

With no agreement between the league and the KHL due to the war in Ukraine, there are a lot of unanswered questions. Where are Kaprizov and Fedotov? Are they just the tip of the iceberg in uncharted NHL water?

Ivan Fedotov Update

As many Philadelphia Flyers fans are aware, Fedotov was detained in Russia on July 1st for allegedly evading military service in his country. The 25-year-old played last season in the KHL for CSKA Moscow, leading the club to win the Gagarin Cup. When his contract with the club expired, he signed his entry-level contract with the Flyers in May. Originally, Fedotov was drafted 188th overall by the Flyers back in the 2015 NHL Draft.

However, his journey in 2022 to the NHL is in limbo. He was picked up in a criminal investigation and according to Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, the team is investigating the matter and had no other comment. On Tuesday, Fedotov’s agent J.P. Barry mentioned that the netminder was now being held at a remote northern Russian military base. No mention of his physical or mental state was available and the Russian Defense Ministry is also mum on the subject.

Fedotov was able to sign with the NHL as a free agent. Other KHL players under contract do not have the same opportunity without a formal agreement between the two leagues. The goalie was, and hopefully still will be, in competition for a roster sport but as of now, there is little the Flyers can do but sit and wait.

NHL, Russia concerns, and beyond

There is a growing concern about the future of Russian-born NHL players. Just after Fedotov, Kaprizov’s name appeared. He was linked to allegedly buying a fake military ID, and while Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin says he’s fine, there’s concern he could face the same fate as Fedotov.

Kaprizov was reported by Russia’s newspaper Sport-Express that he returned to the U.S. immediately after the news about Fedotov but there is little confirmation about any of the information.

The NHL didn’t give formal guidance on how to have teams safely return their players back for the season. There are a ton of logistical issues with travel suspended between Russia and Belarus, with the NHLPA likely needing to step in and help.

But, there is a deeper concern that Russia is carefully looking at athletes who play overseas and it’s just the start of a broader trend. WNBA star Brittney Griner is another example, having played in Russia during the off-season and being arrested for hashish oil back in February.

This is a new situation for both teams and the league alike with no guidance on how to navigate war-affected athletes. But with all eyes on Montreal for the draft, teams may think carefully about who they pick and if they’ll actually be able to play on NHL ice.

(Photo by Mickael Chavet/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)