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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Russian NHL Players Will Be Banned From International Tourney

Alex Ovechkin playing for Russia at the World Cup of Hockey

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NHL players haven’t made an appearance at the Winter Olympics since 2014, and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey marks the last time most of them have had the chance to represent their native country on the ice. Thankfully, it appears the league will finally give some of them the green light to do exactly that—although Russian players will not be getting the nod.

The NHL has a somewhat complicated relationship with international competitions.

While it allowed players to compete in the Olympics for the first time in 1998, the risk of injury (and the related insurance costs) as well as the fact that the league needs to put the season on hold when the event is held has kept the most talented hockey players on the planet from suiting up for their homeland for close to a decade (although it seems like it will reverse course prior to the 2026 Games in Milan).

With that said, the NHL has attempted to take matters into its own hands on a few occasions. In 1976, it sanctioned the Canada Cup, which served as the predecessor for the World Cup of Hockey, an event that was held for the first time in 1996 and was revived in 2004 and 2016.

The most recent iteration of the World Cup of Hockey featured the collective of countries known as “The Big Six” (Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic) along with two supplemental squads consisting of a collection of players from European countries that couldn’t field a full team and some young talent from North America.

Canada walked away with the title in 2016 thanks in no small part to the fact that it produces more NHL players than any other country. As things currently stand, around 41% of guys in the league hail from The Great White North, followed by the United States (~30%), Sweden (~9%), Russia (~6%), and Finland (~5%).

According to ESPN, the NHL is currently gearing up to organize a new four-team international tourney that’s slated to be held in 2025. The three teams with the most players will be getting an invite, and while Russia has a slight edge over Finland when it comes to the number of players who are currently in the NHL, you probably won’t be shocked to learn its neighbor to the west is getting the nod due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

The outlet reports the NHL considered taking a page out of the International Olympic Committee playbook to allow Russians like Alexander Ovechkin and Nikita Kucherov to compete under a neutral flag (which is a fairly toothless measure in the grand scheme of things), but that was apparently a non-starter for some of the other countries who said they wouldn’t participate due to the country’s decision to invade Ukraine

The narrow nature of the upcoming event means it will likely eschew the “World Cup of Hockey” label for another name, but it hasn’t officially decided on a moniker.

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