Gary Bettman: NHL to 'respect process' with regards to players in Russia

MONTREAL -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said players who are currently in Russia must make "the best possible decisions for themselves and their families" when it comes to returning to North America for next season.

"It's probably not a good idea for us or the clubs to get involved in the politics of what's going on in Russia," Bettman said at the NHL draft on Thursday. "I don't want to say anything that could be misconstrued or cause the inflammation of a sensitive situation. Russian players that still reside in Russia need to make sure they're making the best possible decisions for themselves and their families."

There's been growing concern about the status of some Russian NHL players for next season. Last week, Philadelphia Flyers goaltending prospect Ivan Fedotov was picked up by law enforcement in Russia on suspicion of evading military service. Fedotov's agent told The Associated Press that Fedotov had been relocated to a remote military base in northern Russia.

This week, a Russian media report claimed Minnesota Wild star Kirill Kaprizov is wanted by police in a case involving fraudulent military IDs. The Wild said that Kaprizov is currently in Russia.

"All I'm trying to do is get information and not jump the gun or push the panic button on anything," Wild general manager Bill Guerin said.

Bettman said the NHL is also still collecting information about these situations. "We probably don't have the full story as to what is going on in terms of what each player's relationship is in Russia with respect to the government. We're going to have to respect the process as to what goes on," he said.

Bettman denied that the NHL has discouraged, in any way, teams from drafting Russian players in the 2022 NHL draft.

"No. I don't think that would be appropriate. I saw there was a report that we were advising clubs not to draft Russians. That's not true. Clubs will draft anybody who is draft eligible. Obviously when you draft a player from a particular country may be impacted by whether you can get them to play," he said.

The relationship between the NHL and Russia has been strained since the invasion of Ukraine. The NHL has severed financial ties with Russian media companies and a Russia-based sportsbook. There is also no current transfer agreement with the Kontinental Hockey League. The league's relationship with Russia could influence its planning for the next World Cup of Hockey, which is tentatively scheduled for February 2024.

"I don't know. The World Cup is still in its embryonic stage. There's so more work to be done," Bettman said.

Bettman also said the NHL is working with the NHL Players' Association on the framework for its own investigation into the Hockey Canada sexual assault case. Hockey Canada quietly settled a lawsuit in May after a woman said she was assaulted by members of the 2018 gold-medal-winning world junior hockey team at an organization function. The NHL only recently learned of the allegations.

The league is conducting its own investigation because some of the players on that world junior team are now in the NHL. Bettman said the NHL is working with the players' union to make sure there's full cooperation. He wouldn't say whether there could be supplemental discipline for NHL players if they don't cooperate with the investigation.

"Let's cross the bridge if we have to," he said.

An independent investigation ended in September 2020, but outgoing Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney told Canadian lawmakers that the report was incomplete and shouldn't be released. Bettman said the NHL is in the process of acquiring all the information from the Hockey Canada investigation.

"We're going to do as thorough an investigation as possible to see if we can learn more than Hockey Canada was able to," he said.

NHL Chief of Security Jared Maples will run the league's investigation, but Bettman said the NHL is open to having outside firms take part if necessary. Bettman said whether the information is made public depends on what guarantees the NHL has to put in place in order to get the information but that he hopes to make everything public.

Ultimately, he said there's a desire by the NHL to get a full picture of what happened. "Of course there is. This is unacceptable," he said.