The War in Ukraine Shakes Up NHL and Hockey Worldwide

Russian players are still playing, but sponsors are pulling out and the NHL is cutting ties with Russian business partners.

Sarah Lord
Sarah Lord Associate Writer
Sarah Lord covers TVs and home entertainment. Prior to joining CNET, Sarah served as the tech and electronic reviews fellow at Insider, where she wrote about everything from smart watches and wearables to tablets and e-readers. She began her career by writing laptop reviews as an intern and subsequent freelancer at Tom's Hardware. She is also a professional actor with many credits in theater, film and television.
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4 min read

Alexander Ovechkin and other Russian players are facing backlash over the war in Ukraine.

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine has prompted outrage around the world, with numerous Western countries imposing severe official sanctions against the Russian government, and many private businesses and organizations taking action, including in the world of sports. Several organizations connected to professional ice hockey have pledged to withhold services from Russian businesses, and in some cases, athletes. These sanctions have put many hockey leagues and players in a tough situation. 

Some of the best leagues in the world feature players from Russia. The National Hockey League in the US has more than 40 Russian players, including superstars Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. The CHL, a Canadian junior hockey league, serves as a North American proving ground for Russian prospects, while the KHL -- a league that consists mostly of Russian teams and players -- is considered one of the best professional leagues in the world. On the international stage, the Russian men's hockey team just followed up their 2018 gold medal with a silver in the recently completed 2022 Olympics. 

With Russia so entwined in the fabric of the hockey world, how are leagues balancing sanctions with their commitment to Russian players? As of now, hockey fans are still largely unaffected. Currently leagues are continuing to play with Russian players, but as the war continues and pressures mount, that could change. We've broken down the major news so far.


The war in Ukraine puts the NHL in a tough spot.

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The NHL released a statement condemning Russia's actions on Feb. 28. It announced that it had ceased operations of its Russian-language social and digital media sites, as well as its relationships with Russian business partners. This includes a multiyear partnership with the Russian internet giant Yandex, which airs live and on-demand NHL games. Additionally, the league suspended business with Liga Stavok, a Russian sports betting company. 

The NHL has made it clear, however, that it still supports its Russian players. The league's statement says that the players play "on behalf of their NHL Clubs, and not on behalf of Russia," and that they are "concerned about the well-being of the players from Russia."  

Some Russian NHL players are already facing repercussions. Washington Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin saw insurance company MassMutual drop his popular commercial, while his stick manufacturer, CCM, stopped using Russian hockey players in its global marketing campaigns. 

Other Russian players have faced hostility from fans. Daniel Milstein, an agent who represents dozens of Russian players, told The Washington Post that his clients are receiving death threats. 

"My clients' babies on Instagram have been called Nazis. My clients on the streets in different towns, on the road or at home, have been told to get the F out of the country and go back to Russia," he said.

According to Milstein, many Russian players feel like they can't speak out against the war for fear of repercussions back home. 

"One of the guys who said 'no war' publicly, his family was one of the families that has gotten ill wishes and death threats, too," he told the Post.

So far the NHL is continuing its season unabated, though some teams have added extra security to protect their Russian players. 


The IIHF has banned Russian teams from all competition. 

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International hockey

The International Ice Hockey Federation, the governing body of international hockey, has suspended Russia and its ally Belarus from all levels of competition. This includes the World Championships in May, as well as the Women's Under-18 World Championship. The World Junior Championship, a yearly tournament for players under 20 years old, was scheduled to take place in Russia this coming December. It will now be relocated and Russian and Belarusian teams will not be allowed to participate. There is no word on the fate of the 2023 World Championships, which is scheduled to take place in St. Petersburg.

Shortly after the IIHF ban, Electronic Arts, the maker of the popular NHL 22 video game, removed all Russian and Belarusian nationals teams and clubs from its game.


Jokerit, a KHL team based in Finland, withdrew from the league over the war in Ukraine.

Sergei Fadeichev/TASS/Getty Images)


The Kontinental Hockey League, a primarily Russian-based league that also has teams in Belarus, Kazakhstan and China, is also facing repercussions. The NHL suspended its memorandum of understanding with the league and told its teams to cease contact with Russian-based agents. This could make it harder for teams to sign Russian players and draft picks who have current contracts with the KHL.

Additionally, two KHL teams based outside of Russia have withdrawn from the league. Jokerit, based in Finland, and Dinamo Riga from Latvia, left the league over the Ukrainian invasion. Jokerit was set to play HC Spartak Moscow in the first round of the Gagarin Cup playoffs this month.

KHL players from outside Russia have also canceled their contracts and left the league. According to The Hockey News, nine players on three teams have left their teams in protest. The KHL playoffs continue, however. 


The CHL canceled the 2022 Canada-Russia series. 

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The Canadian junior league, a favorite stepping-stone for gifted Russian hockey players looking to play in North America, canceled its 2022 Canada-Russia series. The annual tournament pits all-star Canadian and Russian junior players against each other in six televised exhibition games.

Russian players are drafted into the CHL through a yearly import draft. According to Milstein, the CHL has discussed barring teams from drafting Russian and Belarusian players this year. As of now, the league has yet to announce any changes to the import draft.