Relieved Wild welcomes Kaprizov after summer in Russia

Relieved Wild welcomes Kaprizov after summer in Russia

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Last summer, a lengthy contract negotiation between Kirill Kaprizov and the Minnesota Wild, plus the complication of international travel and COVID-19 protocols, called into question the arrival of the star left wing for the start of training camp.

That process turned out to be a breeze compared to this year.

Kaprizov’s return to his native Russia after Wild was kicked out of the playoffs last spring brought about a stressful offseason for the entire organization, as the franchise player ran into several roadblocks in his attempt to travel back to the US.

The war in Ukraine and political relations between the United States and Russia having made a trip home to visit family and friends is no longer so simple.

“At least I was able to do something last year, or not do something,” said general manager Bill Guerin, who gave Kaprizov a five-year, $45 million contract. before the last season. “At least we knew where she was and she was safe and all that. It was just a simple contract negotiation. This was much more serious, and when you can’t help it, it’s a little different.”

The Wild helped out as much as he could, with assistant GM Chris O’Hearn and Kaprizov’s agent Paul Theofanous spearheading the behind-the-scenes paperwork.

While rumors about Kaprizov’s military exemption status circulated in the Russian media, the essence of the problem, according to Guerin, was the expiration of Kaprizov’s work visa. Pandemic-related delays have made appointments at foreign consulates much more difficult to obtain.

“I’m sure it wasn’t a big part of his life, but it was harder than we thought it was going to be,” said Guerin, who alluded to help from “special friends” in Washington. “Kirill was very patient. He did exactly what he had to do. It was a really difficult time for him. We are glad that he is here. We’re glad he’s safe, healthy and ready to go, and he’s excited. That’s behind us.

After taking the ice for the team’s first practice Thursday, Kaprizov met with reporters but politely declined to answer questions about his off-ice ordeal, preferring to focus on hockey.

The hockey part? Yes, that should be much smoother.

He had seven goals and one assist in Minnesota’s six-game loss to St. Louis in the first round of the playoffs last spring after posting 47 goals and 61 assists in 81 games during the regular season. The Wild had Kaprizov’s translator on the phone while he stood on a podium at the track, but the easy-smiling, soft-spoken 25-year-old only needed his help about half the time. Kaprizov felt comfortable enough to speak in English for the rest of the time.

“I do what I do every summer. I don’t think about 100 points. I just practice,” Kaprizov said when asked how he can get through his 2021-22 season. “Have a little fun sometimes.”

Maybe not as much as in past summers.

Since the war escalated in February, Russian NHL players have found themselves in a bind, trying to spend as low as possible on these geopolitical issues.

Philadelphia Flyers goalkeeping prospect Ivan Fedotov has been sent to a remote military base in his homeland this summer. Just this week, the Czech Foreign Ministry told the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks that Russian players would not be welcome. due to the war in Ukraine when the two teams play in Prague on October 7-8.

For now, the Wild are more than thrilled to have “Kirill The Thrill” with them in Minnesota.

“Obviously, you’re always thinking about your family and things like that. He is not the only person who has been through a difficult time or a difficult situation. That happens every day of every year on every team. It is not an easy life. Players always have a lot on their minds,” Guerin said. “The great thing about the game is that when you get on the rink, it’s like your safe haven and you can get away from all of that and just be a hockey player and focus on the game.”

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