“Banning team sports, particularly ones that represent Russia, is certainly justified,” he said. “But it would be hard to exclude the hockey players. The hardest one to justify would be banning Vasilevskiy or Shesterkin.”
Frye has traveled to Russia regularly since 1985 and has been to about a half-dozen hockey games there, both before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He said that when he watches the N.H.L. now, he wonders why the Russian players aren’t more of a discussion in hockey since the invasion, as opposed to in soccer and tennis.
But he understands why the players are reluctant to speak publicly about the situation.
“Individual Russians take on great risk to express opposition,” Frye said. “A lot of them also have family back in Russia who are vulnerable, and everybody understands that. There is great cost in speaking out. It’s a real thing.”
Frye said there is also the possibility that players could be excluded from Russian national teams in the future, like tennis’s Davis Cup, the Olympic teams or the national hockey and soccer teams. He said even taking a neutral position is frowned upon, and there is the threat of long jail sentences for those who criticize the invasion.
Despite the conflict and uncertainty, the N.H.L.’s Russians play on.
“It has to be an extremely difficult situation,” Cooper said. “When you’ve got a massive ocean in between what’s going on, it probably makes a little bit of a difference.” He added: “Ultimately, it comes down to the guys having to do their job. But it can’t be easy. You just feel for everyone.”
There have been 327 N.H.L. players born in Russia or the Soviet Union, according to Hockey Reference, and only 26 of them were goalies, starting with Sergei Mylnikov, who made his debut with the Quebec Nordiques in 1989. Of the Russian-born goalies, 10 were active this year (11, if you include the Russian-trained Georgiev), and all were born after 1993.