Vancouver Canucks, Vasily Podkolzin

Canucks Daily: What Happened To The Russian Dilemma

Out of sight, out of mind. It’s just human nature, part of the natural course of things these days. A year ago at this time we were writing about the Canucks and their three Russian forwards and what the fans’ reaction might be to these players once the season started, seven months after their country attacked Ukraine.

Now, not much of a peep.

This time around when Andrei Kuzmenko, Ilya Mikheyev, and Vasily Podkolzin show up to play hockey, the war that rages on back home appears to be a topic of little interest in North America.

Part of this comes down to a successful strategy by the NHL and its teams that started in the spring of 2022. “Don’t talk about it, don’t let reporters ask about it.”

I mean c’mon, we can’t let a little thing like missiles and bombs killing civilians mess up business operations. We’ve got Alexander Ovechkin, Vladimir Putin’s buddy, closing in a goal scoring record. Think of the negative public relations!

As cynical as that sounds, this is actually more of a basic societal issue. When much of the general public has been conditioned to pay more attention to the mental health of Britney Spears on a daily basis than on a genocide in parts of India and the ethnic cleansing unfolding in Palestine, it simply means these uncomfortable matters get shuffled under the rug. Tragic crimes there; mild discomfort if any here.

Canucks Trio

Which brings us to the obvious counter-argument. Are we supposed to hold recent events against these players just because of their country of origin. Just like any other ‘immigrant’ or person working on a visa from any other country, these guys are just here trying to make a living in the vocation of their choosing.

Does the high profile nature of their field of expertise make matters different for them? Maybe. That’s subject to debate.

Another potential dilemma might exist; if Russian NHL’ers speak out against Putin, do they potentially endanger family members back home? Is that still a thing?

The Canucks would be in a particularly difficult position if this topic actually mattered this day and age. They have a charismatic and very productive first liner in Kuzmenko, an equally likeable young father and prospect in Podkolzin, and a speedy top-6 forward in Mikheyev. Key cogs to say the least.

Regardless of their hockey skills and team importance, they shouldn’t be harangued, yelled at or hated upon. Would that same Canucks fan who complained to us a year ago and said “send them home” say the same thing about the guy from India selling cars here or the relocated Israeli accountant? Doubt it.

Imagine a different time and place. OK, a different time. The NHL might have sent them all home. Today, not a chance.

I don’t have the final answer as to whether that’s right or wrong, but the topic, like those other world events, are definitely worthy of discussion and a hell of lot more attention.

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Rob Simpson

Rob Simpson has covered the NHL in five different decades. He’s authored 4 books on hockey and is a veteran TV and radio play-by-play man and reporter.