- The Washington Times
Thursday, March 3, 2022

Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is defending Alex Ovechkin, acknowledging the “difficult” position he and the rest of the NHL‘s Russian players are under amid the war in Ukraine

The star winger has been criticized by some for his past support of Vladimir Putin and his lack of condemnation for the Russian president when speaking with the media last week. He has also lost multiple sponsors due to the conflict, including his MassMutual commercial being pulled off the air. 

“[Ovechkin] is a good person. He’s an emotional person, and he takes things personally. I think he’s been put under an incredible amount of pressure,” MacLellan said during a press conference Wednesday. “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 handle — a situation that I’m not sure that he’s fully thought out or that anybody has, really.”

Last Friday, Ovechkin was neither supportive nor critical of Putin when speaking with reporters, but he did call for “no more war” and urged for “peace.” But when asked specifically about his past support of Putin — such as Ovechkin campaigning for him in 2017 through a social media movement called “PutinTeam” — Ovechkin obfuscated. 

“He‘s my president,” said Ovechkin, whose Instagram profile picture remains one of him posing with Putin. “But like I said, I’m not in politics. I’m an athlete. I hope everything is going to be done soon. It’s a hard situation right now for both sides.”

Ovechkin’s wife, two sons and parents are all still living in Moscow. 

“It’s hard for him,” MacLellan said. “We talk to him. 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.”

But Ovechkin isn’t the only Russian on the Capitals. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Ilya Samsonov and Dmitry Orlov — the latter of whom was also dropped along with Ovechkin from equipment company CCM Hockey — are also in a tough spot, MacLellan said. 

“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.

“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.”

MacLellan also said that the organization is well aware of the criticism Ovechkin is receiving online and are providing security for the 36-year-old. 

“We have security for sure,” he said. “People are lashing out so it’s difficult for them and their families — families here, families back home. It’s a hard situation.”

Increased security is something NHL player agent Dan Milstein, who represents about 75% of the league’s Russian and Belarusian players, has urged teams to provide. Milstein, who does not represent Ovechkin, said his clients are experiencing “disturbing levels” of harassment following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He said multiple players have received death threats in the past week. 

“The discrimination and racism these Russian and Belarusian players are facing right now is remarkable,” Milstein told ESPN. “We’re being set back 30 years. I have players calling me, parents calling me. They’re concerned whether they’ll be able to play, whether they’ll be safe.”

• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at jmeyer@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.