Relieved Wild welcome Kaprizov back after summer in Russia

ST. PAUL, Minnesota (AP) — Last summer, a lengthy contract negotiation between Kirill Kaprizov and the Minnesota Wild — along with the complication of international travel and COVID-19 protocols — threw the star’s arrival into question. left winger for the start of training camp.

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

Kaprizov’s return to his native Russia after the Wild were ousted from the playoffs last spring led to a stressful offseason for the entire organization, as the franchise player hit several roadblocks in his attempt to return to the United States.

The war in Ukraine and US-Russian political relations have made a trip home to visit family and friends no longer so simple.

“At least I could do something last year, or do nothing,” said general manager Bill Guerin, who handed Kaprizov a five-year, $45 million deal before last season. “At least we knew where he was and he was safe, and all that. It was just a simple contract negotiation. It was much more serious, and when you can’t help, it’s a little different.

The Wild helped out as much as they could, with assistant general manager Chris O’Hearn and Kaprizov’s agent Paul Theofanous leading the behind-the-scenes paperwork.

While rumors about Kaprizov’s military exemption status circulated in the Russian media, the crux of the matter, according to Guerin, was the expiration of Kaprizov’s work visa. Pandemic-related backlogs 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,” 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 just a very difficult time for him. We’re just happy he’s here. We’re happy he’s safe, healthy and ready to go, and he’s excited. It’s behind us.”

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

The hockey game? Yeah, it should be a lot 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 47 goals and 61 assists in 81 regular-season games. The Wild had Kaprizov’s translator on the phone as he stood on a podium at the rink, but the easy-smile, soft-spoken 25-year-old only needed his services for about half the time . Kaprizov was comfortable enough to speak in English for the rest.

“I do what I do every summer. I’m not thinking 100 points. I’m just training,” Kaprizov said when asked how he can top his 2021-22 season. “Have a little fun sometimes.”

Maybe not as much as summers past.

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

Philadelphia Flyers goalie prospect Ivan Fedotov was sent to a remote military base in his native country 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 7 and October 8.

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

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

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