Mike Grier says San Jose Sharks won’t leave Russians behind

SAN JOSE — General manager Mike Grier said the Sharks won’t play in the Czech Republic for two Global Series games next month if the team’s Russian-born players like Alexander Barabanov are denied entry into the country. .

The NHL has been informed by the Czech Foreign Ministry that the Russian-born players of the Nashville Sharks and Predators are not wanted in the country for the Oct. 7-8 games in Prague due to the invasion of the NHL. Ukraine by Russia earlier this year.

“We can confirm that the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent a letter to the NHL to emphasize that, for the time being, the Czech Republic or any other state in the (visa-free) Schengen zone should not issue visas to Russian players. to enter our territory,” Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Smolek said in a statement to The Associated Press.

An NHL spokesperson told this news agency that the league does not expect “any problems with Russian players traveling or playing games.” Grier also said he doesn’t anticipate any issues, but added he won’t be leaving players behind to play games.

“We’re a team, so if they say some guys can’t get through, either we all go or nobody goes,” Grier said. “But I don’t foresee any problems at this time.”

When asked if that meant potentially losing the games if the Czech government’s stance didn’t change, Grier said: “I don’t know how it would go in terms of forfeits and things like that. It’s something the league has to deal with. But I believe quite firmly (that) we are a team here, we are a group, and it is not the fault of the players. They did nothing wrong. So I don’t think they should be punished for that.

“We are with them and we are all together as one here. If that happens and I hope it doesn’t – and I don’t foresee it will – we’ll do it as a group.

Barabanov, 28, is the Sharks’ most prominent Russian player. St. Petersburg-born Barabanov has become one of the Sharks’ most valuable wingers since being acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the end of the 2020-21 season.

Last season, Barabanov tallied 39 points in 70 games while playing almost exclusively on the Sharks’ first line with Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier. As a pending unrestricted free agent, Barabanov was re-signed by the Sharks this offseason to a two-year, $5 million deal.

Other Sharks players who could be affected by the Czech government’s current stance include forwards Evgeny Svechnikov and Danil Gushchin, as well as defender Artemi Kniazev.

Agent Daniel Milstein, who represents both Barabanov and Svechnikov, tweeted his appreciation for Grier, saying, “Excellent leadership from Mike! One for all and all for one!”

Notable Russian players on the Predators roster include forwards Yakov Trenin and Egor Afanasyev.

The Sharks are expected to welcome up to 27 players when they depart for Europe on October 1. San Jose will face Eisbären Berlin in an exhibition match on October 4 before traveling to Prague.

After the two games in Prague, the Sharks return home to face Brent Burns and the Carolina Hurricanes on October 14 and the Chicago Blackhawks on October 15.

Asked about the situation earlier Thursday, Sharks captain Logan Couture said, “I think we’re a team here. If we go there, we want all of our team members to be there. All the guys who are going to be part of the team are part of our team.

The Sharks wrapped up their first day of training camp on Thursday under new coach David Quinn.

The Czech ministry said it informed the NHL “about the ongoing negotiations on the entry ban for citizens of the Russian Federation who had already received valid visas before.”

Former Czech-born NHL goaltender Dominik Hasek, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, tweeted recently after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs published its position, saying: “Yes, we don’t want any promotion of Russian aggression here. We protect our lives and those of our allies in the first place. »

The Sharks have three Czech-born players in camp with Hertl, winger Adam Raska and defender Radim Simek.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Berta D. Wells