Connect with us
[bsa_pro_ad_space id=12]


Feds tell Canadian hockey players with KHL teams in Russia, Belarus to get out


8 minute read

Canadians continue to play hockey for Kontinental Hockey League teams in Russia and Belarus despite the Canadian government’s warning to get out of those countries.

The 48 Canadian players currently on KHL club rosters this season is the most from any country outside Russia.

Forty-four are playing for clubs within Russian and Belarusian borders, with the other four in Kazakhstan.

Russia, with Belarus a supporter, invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Canada has been firmly on the side of Ukraine in the conflict with $626 million in military aid and over $320 million in humanitarian assistance since February, as well imposing financial sanctions on Russia and Belarus.

“President (Vladimir) Putin’s war in Ukraine is a war on freedom, on democracy and on the rights of Ukrainians, and all people, to determine their own future,” wrote Adrien Blanchard, press secretary for Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, in an emailed statement to The Canadian Press.

“As Canadians, these are values we hold dear. Athletes who decide to play and associate with Russia and Belarus should explain their decisions to the public.”

Alberta-based player agent Ritchie Winter, who has three clients in the KHL, says players have a right to make a living in their profession as other Canadians do working in foreign countries.

“We live in a world where individuals are allowed to make those decisions. It’s just an individual decision related to an employment opportunity,” Winter said. “Has every player that’s gone, push, tugged and pulled and wrestled with the decision? Yeah, absolutely.

“At the end of the day, they’re husbands and fathers who have responsibilities to their families. If you’re a young family with limited resources because you played mostly in the minors, there’s a desire to take care of your family.

“Sometimes that leads people to the oilfields in Kazakhstan and sometimes it leads them to the KHL.”

Advisories to avoid travel to Russia and Belarus were issued March 5 and Feb. 24 respectively, Global Affairs Canada told The Canadian Press in a statement.

“Our government has been very clear. Canadians should avoid all travel to Russia and Belarus,” said Blanchard. “If they are in Russia or in Belarus, they should leave now. Our ability to provide consular services may become extremely limited.”

Dozens of Canadians play in men’s pro leagues across Europe every year. A top KHL player can make over US$1 million a year in salary.

The Canadian Press messaged nine Canadian players in the KHL asking what assurances they’d received from that league and their teams in regard to their personal safety. None responded.

“There were a number of players caught in the crosshairs last year when all of this happened. They stayed and didn’t see any risk,” Winter said.

“From what the players tell me, the environment isn’t changed from what it has (been) previously. Many of them have balanced that risk and determined that they would play there.”

He also knows of players who turned down opportunities to play in the KHL this season.

“Everybody has a different risk profile,” he said. “I’ve had Canadian and American clients turn down massive amounts of money compared to what they’ll make here.”

There were 53 Canadians in the KHL last season. Seven played for Latvia’s Riga Dynamo, which along with Finland’s Helsinki Jokerit withdrew from the league.

“Something I obviously don’t support is the war that’s going on,” said forward Jake Virtanen, who is on a tryout contract with the Oilers after playing 36 games for Spartak Moscow last season.

“It was one of the main reasons why I left. It’s a tough situation. Me, personally, I wouldn’t go back because of it.”

Ukraine supporter United States is entangled in a diplomatic row with Russia over a pro athlete.

WNBA all-star Brittney Griner, who plays pro basketball for Ekaterinburg in the off-season, was sentenced Aug. 4 to nine years in prison for drug possession.

When she arrived in Moscow on Feb. 17, police said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

Winter says Russians playing in the NHL deters a possible retaliatory detention of a Canadian player over Canada’s support of Ukraine, but a McGill associate Professor of Political Science says the risk exists.

“Russia doesn’t have any rule of law, so anybody who is in Russia is always in danger of being framed, incarcerated, used as a pawn in whatever the local government, central government et cetera decides to do,” Maria Popova said.

The risk of a Canadian hockey player detained by local, state or central governments is low to moderate, “but there is a risk,” she said. “I think something like what happened to Brittney Griner is possible. The same playbook can be repeated in a case against a Canadian player for sure.”

“I don’t see why Russia would try to use these people as a pawn because Canada is not Russia’s main problem in this war,” Popova continued.

“There isn’t really any hope that Russia could change Canadian policy in Ukraine. They know Canada is firmly in NATO, clearly backing Ukraine.”

Goaltender Andrew Hammond was the most recent Canadian to sign with a KHL club. He joined Chelyabinsk Traktor on Sept. 16.

Craig Woodcroft, the brother of Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft, coaches Minsk’s KHL team in Belarus.

“With what’s going on in the world obviously, we’re paying attention to that for sure,” Jay Woodcroft said.

“My brother is in Belarus, so it’s not the big Russian mainland, but they play in that league. He’s carved a good career for himself there at a high level in the KHL.”

Seven Canadians in the KHL wore the Maple Leaf in Beijing’s Olympic Games in February just before Russia invaded Ukraine, including goaltender Ed Pasquale (Metallurg Magnitogorsk) and forwards Corban Knight (Avangard Omsk) and Josh Ho-Sang (Salavat Yulaev).

— With files from Steven Sandor in Edmonton.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2022.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

Storytelling is in our DNA. We provide credible, compelling multimedia storytelling and services in English and French to help captivate your digital, broadcast and print audiences. As Canada’s national news agency for 100 years, we give Canadians an unbiased news source, driven by truth, accuracy and timeliness.

Follow Author

Bruce Dowbiggin

Celebrity Owners– Fun, Yes, But The Equity Is Even Better

Published on

In case you hadn’t noticed. Celebrity Sports Ownership is all the rage. When the Ottawa Senators were for sale Ryan Reynolds, Snoop and The Weeknd were all mentioned among the bidders (that eventually went to Montreal businessman Michael Andlauer). LeBron James now holds a minority position with Liverpool FC.

Jay-Z owns part of the Brooklyn Nets, Usher a piece of the Cleveland Cavaliers while Fergie of Black Eyed Peas fame also partly owns the Miami Dolphins. Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Marc Anthony, and tennis superstars Serena and Venus Williams are owners of pro sports teams. Famously, Elton John owned Watford FC, although he’s now just an honorary chairman.

And, of course, Reynolds and Rob McElhenney used a documentary TV series that showed their Welsh Wrexham soccer team promoted to the FA’s League Two. What’s the attraction?

Clearly a little PR is always a good thing. But sports team ownership has also become a lucrative equity play. As BMO reports, “The average compound annual growth rate since the last purchase price…  is 15 percent, a meaningful outperformance to the TSX and S&P.  Forbes estimates the Toronto Blue Jays are currently worth US$2.1 billion or roughly C$2.85 billion.

Based on recent sports franchise transactions, expansion fees and annual estimations of franchise values by Forbes Magazine, an $8 billion enterprise value is easily defendable for the Jays’ owners MLSE (who also own the Maple Leafs, Toronto FC and Argonauts).”

It’s the same across the major pro sports leagues. The estimated average franchise value in the NFL since 2013 is $5.1B with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16 percent; in the NBA it is $2.9B with a CAGR of 18 percent. For MLB it is $2.3B with a CAGR of 12 percent; the NHL is $1.0B with a CAGR of 11 percent; while MLS is $0.6B with a CAGR 21%.

But, BMO cautions, owning a sports franchise is considered “an equity investment strategy rather than a cash flow or income play.” In other words, don’t think that ticket sales and hot dogs are going to make you rich. (Although the NHL’s salary cap, which guarantees owners’ profits is a sweet deal.) The key is sports media which is thriving despite the move to cord cutting..

Sports media rights contracts have grown in tandem with franchise valuations. Not to be ignored in the advertising growth and viewer interaction is the bear knowns as legalized sports betting. Betting companies are flooding the airwaves with commercials while bettors tune in to watch how their selections work out. The casinos and online shops have replaced lower-paying traditional advertisers who’ve dropped off.

In Canada, league or team ownership of broadcast properties is still common. For that reason the real value of those broadcast rights is often opaque. (We had some irritated pushback from Rogers and Bell for writing on this tidy arrangement in the mid 2010s, forcing some limited disclosures). Rogers Sportsnet and TSN own (via MLSE) own a stable of teams in MLB, NHL, CFL and MLS. Good luck finding out what they pay themselves for media rights.

It’s more open in the U.S. Since the New York Yankees pioneered the YES network in 2002— sparking multiple imitators in other markets—the move in the U.S. has been away from outright ownerships of regional sports networks. A number of RSNs in the U.S. are either in bankruptcy or nearing it. Digital and network sources are now absorbing these sources. ESPN, via its owner Disney, is looking to find partners for its many broadcast properties as their bottom line in general has suffered.

Still, ESPN’s legacy business generates revenue and operating income of approximately $12.5 billion and $4.0 billion in 2023. It remains to be seen what new model emerges in the U.S. to answer cord cutting and the death of conventional TV. The NFL’s experiment on Monday, having two MNF games compete on separate networks is one experiment.

In Canada’s monopolistic market, “TSN/RDS penetration rates have declined at a quicker pace than ESPN over the past 10 years. ESPN penetration has dropped from 81 percent of U.S. households in 2013 to 56 percent in 2022, while TSN/RDS penetration has decreased from 89% of Canadian households in 2013 to 49 percent in 2022.

In addition, BMO admits that cord cutting is a thing. “SportsNet subscribers have decreased -23 percent to 5.8 million over the same period. Subscriber and advertising revenues are 60 percent and 40 percent of total revenue, respectively. Since 2017, TSN revenues have increased 13 percent. TSN subscribers have decreased -29 percent to ~7.8 million over the same period.”

But! In the last five years, TSN and SN have increased advertising revenues by 13 percent and 15 percent respectively. The same figure for the top five Canadian non-sports channels (collectively) is six percent. Thank you legalized wagering in Ontario. So who wouldn’t want a piece of this action, especially in Canada?

The red flag in this surging equity market comes in the form of smaller Canadian NHL markets. The Senators sale for $950 suggests a healthy interest in owning, but the Sens sale was also tied into the new LeBreton Flats arena. Ownership or control of a Canadian arena means more than NHL games. It also includes revenue from concerts, rallies, monster-truck events etc.

Even with that can Andlauer produce a winner just two hours from the Montreal Canadiens market? Likewise, the Winnipeg Jets are desperately in need of a larger arena to replace the 15,321 Canada Life Centre. Having Canada’s richest man, David Thomson, as an owner is no guarantee of getting one. And should Thomson tire of being the saviour of a losing Jets hockey property, who in that market has C$1-2B lying around needed to fund the franchise properly?

Likewise, the Calgary Flames. Despite the political press conference this summer about as new agreement the arena that management promised by 2013 has still not seen a shovelful of dirt turned over. The latest gaffe was architect’s drawings for the rink being rejected by the NHL due to inadequate dressing-room space. Start again.

Should the rink not be available till 2025-26 will an evolving ownership group still be interested in shelling out the money to keep the Flames (and Stampeders, Roughnecks and Hitmen) operating in Calgary? And if they don’t, because losing sucks? While energy-rich Calgary has plenty of billionaires, few will want to risk the money needed to keep a competitive team in a small market.

Connor McDavid’s brilliance plasters over the same small-market crack in Edmonton. Yes, they have their new building, but can owner Darryl Katz fund the moves need to keep his stars and build a winner? Vancouver, owned by the Aqulini family, has a larger market base, but with Seattle Kraken just two hours away can they too write the cheques needed to create the first Stanley Cup winner since the Canucks entered the NHL in 1970.

If these Canadian markets do survive longterm it might have to be with foreign ownership. Certainly there is money to be made riding the equity train. But there also no guarantees that those carpetbagger owners might replicate the Montreal Expos and scoot to richer markets.

Sign up today for Not The Public Broadcaster newsletters. Hot takes/ cool slants on sports and current affairs. Have the latest columns delivered to your mail box. Tell your friends to join, too. Always provocative, always independent.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via

Continue Reading

Bruce Dowbiggin

Canada’s Bronze Age: Showing The World Their Mettle

Published on

It was a moment to match the Canadian mens soccer team qualifying for the 2023 World Cup in the snows of Edmonton. Except that the Canadian men’s basketball team winning a bronze medal at the FIBA World Cup— while also qualifying for the 2024 Olympics in Paris— went virtually unwatched live in Canada.

Played in the middle of the North American night in stifling hot Indonesia and the Philippines the emotional Canadian games were mostly seen on replay, long after the team led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (31 points) and Dylan Brooks (38 points) had made history against the Americans. Beating even a depleted U.S. team marked just the first medal in a comparable tournament since 1936.

Their crowning moment came in the bronze-medal game early Sunday. Having led the game by four points with 4.2 seconds left, Canada saw Mikel Bridges pull the “deliberately missed foul shot” trick, fielding his rebound and sinking a three pointer to send it into OT. But Canada led extra time the whole way after to seal the win as Brooks, SGA, and R.J.Barrett confidently sank threes to build an unbreakable lead.

Missing stars Jamal Murray, Andrew Wiggins, Khem Birch, Trey Lyles, Oshae Brisset and young hotshots Andrew Nembhart, Bennedict Mathurin, Shaedon Sharpe, Leonard Miller and Kevin Pangos, new coach Jordi Fernandez saw both SGA and Brooks accept the challenge of keeping the team together after the loss to Brazil in the qualifying round and the loss to Serbia is the semifinals.

Some will say a bronze is nothing to get excited about. The Americans played with only nine men Sunday. Perhaps. But remember when Canada was jokingly called the bronze-medal country because of its unwillingness to be nasty and hardbitten enough to deny someone else the gold medal?

That handle was finally shattered by the men’s hockey trams in the ‘70s and ’80’s who cold-bloodedly swept all before them. They were soon followed by many athletes both male and female— like Donovan Bailey and Christine Sinclair— in a range of sports who defiantly captured gold and didn’t care who liked it. The feeling we got from Sunday’s bronze is that this tournament will be a great memory for all involved, but winning the Olympic gold is where it ends up.

Which leads to next summer when all the qualifying teams bring their best players— the U.S. was missing many top stars, Serbia was without two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic; Latvia was missing Kristaps Porzingis; France will likely be adding Victor Wembanyama and potentially Joel Embiid to the mix. Canada will also not be a secret after this tournament. Teams will prepare for them.

That’s okay. In SGA’s smile there was a recognition that the time for hiding is done. In a sport that is notorious for trash talking, Dylan Brooks is willing to back up his mouth. Basketball Canada thinks it can go to Canada’s corporate sector wearing this bronze to get the resources it will need to support the team as it goes for gold. It’s a new day.

As we wrote in October of 2018 While hockey still has a death grip on Canada’s No. 1 sport, basketball is growing in popularity. Among the factors are the economics of the game— it’s much less expensive than hockey for a family, the surge in new Canadian urban communities who have less tradition with hockey and, crucially, the risk factors of concussions that blight hockey, football and even soccer these days.

NBA scouts and NCAA head coaches now flock to Toronto’s Brampton suburb, hotbed for so many of the new stars, to look for the next superstar. Should the pipeline stay full, it would only be a matter of time till a star-laden Canadian team is playing against the Americans in the Olympic or World Cup Final.” Since then we’ve seen Montreal also emerge as a basketball hotbed with Mathurin and Dort as examples..

Coaching and Basketball Canada have been impediments in the past to attracting the best of the best. Jay Triano didn’t mesh with several young players in the past. Canada’s coach until recently was Nick Nurse, ex-coach of the Toronto Raptors. It was hoped his NBA title bonafides would help smooth egos of players and the trepidations of NBA managements that feared their stars would be hurt in the Canadian uniform.

But when he left this season to go to the Philadelphia 76ers the assignment fell to Spaniard Jordi Fernandez, who’s an associate head coach for the Sacramento Kings under Mike Brown. The NBA veterans clearly listened to him in Asia, commanding respect in a league where reputations speak louder than words. And will Basketball Canada, often a dysfunctional body, smooth or hinder the path for the team playing a world away in Asia?

In July we wrote, “With the 2024 Paris Olympics on the horizon, qualifying should be the the least of their goals this month in Indonesia. Getting into the Top 5 would be a signal achievement. A medal? A dream more possible thanks to SGA and his pals.”

Mission accomplished. Bring on the Olympics.

Sign up today for Not The Public Broadcaster newsletters. Hot takes/ cool slants on sports and current affairs. Have the latest columns delivered to your mail box. Tell your friends to join, too. Always provocative, always independent.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via


Continue Reading