Sharks winger in limbo? Czech officials tell NHL that Russian-born players not welcome

SAN JOSE – Russian-born NHL players like Sharks forward Alexander Barabanov may not be welcomed inside the Czech Republic for the Global Series games next month in Prague, although the league does not expect any issues.

The Sharks and Nashville Predators, who play two regular-season games against each other on Oct. 7 and 8 at O2 Arena, have been told by the Czech Foreign Ministry that their Russian-born players will be spurned because of their country’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.

“We can confirm that the Czech Foreign Ministry has sent a letter to the NHL to point out that, at this moment, the Czech Republic or any other state in the (visa-free) Schengen zone should not issue visas to the 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 organization that the league does not expect “any issues with Russian Players traveling to or playing in the games,” echoing what deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the AP. Daly said he had “no concern” with Russian players entering the Czech Republic or playing in Prague.

Per the AP, neither Daly nor the ministry would say if the NHL replied to the letter.

Barabanov, 28, was born in St. Petersburg and has developed into one of the Sharks’ most valuable wingers since he was acquired by the team from the Toronto Maple Leafs late in the 2020-2021 season.

Last season, Barabanov had 39 points in 70 games as he played almost exclusively on the Sharks’ top line with Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier. As a pending unrestricted free agent, Barabanov was re-signed by the Sharks to a two-year, $5 million contract.

Other Sharks players that could potentially be affected by the Czech government’s present stance include forwards Evgeny Svechnikov and Danil Gushchin, and defenseman Artemi Kniazev. Agent Daniel Milstein, who represents both Barabanov and Svechnikov, declined comment to the AP.

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

The Sharks are expected to take up to 27 players when they leave for Europe on Oct. 1. San Jose plays Eisbären Berlin in an exhibition game on Oct. 4 before traveling to Prague.

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

Asked Thursday about the situation, Sharks captain Logan Couture said, “My view is we’re a team in here. If we go over there, we want everyone on our team to be there. All the guys that are going to make the team are part of our team.”

Sharks general manager Mike Grier is expected to address the matter Thursday after the team completes its first day of training camp under new coach David Quinn.

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

Czech-born former NHL goalie Dominik Hasek, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, tweeted recently after the Foreign Ministry issued its stance, saying, “Yes, we don’t want any promotion of the Russian aggression here. We’re guarding our lives and the lives of our allies in the first place.”

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

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.