A hockey general manager has to manage a lot of things. He has to manage his coaches, his scouts, his players, contracts, trades, the draft, relationships with other general managers and much more. One thing Capitals GM Brian MacLellan likely never thought he would have to manage was the politics of war in Europe. After Russia's invasion of Ukraine, however, MacLellan recognizes the difficult position Washington's four Russian players now find themselves in.
"It's difficult for all the Russian players in the league," MacLellan said. "There's a lot of pressure put on them to have a political opinion either way and they're trying to balance out how they live their lives and what their political opinions are and the repercussions that could happen back home."
He added: "I just think it's hard for them to figure out where they fit into the two situations and what they can say, what they can't say and what their true feelings are."
Washington has several Russian players on its roster with Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov. No one, however, is as prominent as team captain Alex Ovechkin.
Ovechkin spoke to reporters about the war on Friday saying, "Please, no more war." While he said he wished for peace, his comments were met with mixed reaction after he did not outright condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin's unprovoked invasion.
On Tuesday, TSN reporter Rick Westhead reported CCM Hockey will stop using Ovechkin and other Russian NHL players in its global marketing initiatives. ESPN reporter Greg Wyshynski also reported Tuesday that MassMutual would no longer air Ovechkin's ad with Nicklas Backstrom.
Even as sponsors distance themselves, MacLellan defended the team's captain stressing the difficult position Ovechkin now finds himself in with pressure from North American fans who abhor Russia's invasion and from back home in Russia where dissent is rarely tolerated.
"[Ovechkin's] a good person, he's an emotional person and he takes things personally," MacLellan said. "I think he's been put under an incredible amount of pressure. You know, for us, it's about how do we support him. He's been the face of our franchise and the face of hockey in this area, his family has grown up here, his kids are from here, and because of his status, he's put in a hard situation to probably handle -- a situation that I'm not sure that he's fully thought out or that anybody has, really. It's hard for him."
With a peaceful resolution unlikely in the short-term future, the war in Ukraine will remain front and center going forward. MacLellan believes it is important for the team to support Ovechkin through this time.
"We talk to him," MacLellan said. "He gets pressure from all sides -- from North America, from Russia, from family, from a lot of different people and he tries to sort it out. So, we try to support him. We talk to him, we have people talking to him all the time, what can we do to help? Help him through what he needs to get through."
Part of that support means added security for Ovechkin, which MacLellan confirmed was a step the team had taken.
"People are lashing out so it's difficult for them and their families. Families here, families back home," MacLellan said. "It's a hard situation."