Nashville Predators forward Matt Duchene has been to Prague, and that’s why he’s eager to return there for games in the coming weeks.
“It might be my favorite city in Europe,” Duchene said. “It’s an awesome town."
“We’re going to have a lot of fun there.”
Well, let’s hope so.
The Predators began training camp practices Friday with the expectation that in a week’s time they’ll fly to Bern, Switzerland for an exhibition game and from there to the Czech Republic’s capital city, where they are set to open their regular season with games Oct. 7 and 8 against the San Jose Sharks as part of the NHL’s Global Series.
Whether that happens, however, could hinge on ongoing efforts by the NHL regarding whether the Czech Republic will allow Russian players to participate because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Associated Press on Thursday reported that the Czech Foreign Ministry told the Predators and Sharks that Russian players would not be welcome in Prague.
That sounds like a line has been drawn on the ice.
So does this from Sharks general manager Mike Grier, who made it clear that such a precondition would be a deal-breaker: “Either we all go or no one goes.”
Both the Predators and Sharks have at least one Russian player. Yakov Trenin would be expected to be among the forwards in the Predators’ lineup, and it’s conceivable that promising Russian prospect Egor Afanasyev could make this team, too.
Hopefully, there is a middle ground to find, but it does appear that the NHL is going to have to find some in less than a week for those games to happen in Prague as scheduled.
And if they don't, what a shame – for everyone involved.
This is complicated, obviously. Always is when geopolitics and sports collide, and this is much bigger than hockey. The last thing I wish to do is suggest otherwise. To minimize the horror of what has been and is taking place in Ukraine – or condone Russian aggression – by making this all about a couple of NHL games is trivial in comparison.
Most people globally, I’d imagine, have been disgusted by this awful war and who started it.
And if canceling those two games would improve one thing for Ukraine, I’d be all for it.
But I don’t see how it would.
Wouldn't a better solution be to take proceeds from these games and donate them to relief efforts?
“It’s not the players’ fault,” Grier said. “They didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t think they should be punished for it.”
Dominik Hasek, a Czech NHL goaltending great, has led the opposition to Russian players in Prague. His heart is in the right place, and I’m sure most would agree and understand the Czech Republic's reasoning while also respecting a nation's sovereignty in such matters.
Yet Hasek, as much as anyone, must realize what it means to be part of an NHL team. How players could never accept a teammate being excluded in such a fashion.
It’d be cruel more than constructive, much like when Wimbledon banned tennis players from Russia and Belarus. While that tournament continued, these hockey games might not. At least not in Prague, thus spoiling a wonderful occasion in a tremendous European city and bringing considerable embarrassment to the NHL. (Seriously, did no one at the league office consider this until the last minute?)
Currently, the NHL has a crew following the Predators for a documentary series – “Behind The Glass” – in the mold of “Hard Knocks” and NFL training camps. That series was meant to feature the team during its European trip and games in Prague. Great visibility for the Preds and for the Czech Republic, too.
What happens if they don’t go?
For what it’s worth, the Predators on Friday didn’t take as firm a stance as the Sharks GM on the controversy, releasing a statement that said, “The league continues to evaluate the situation, and it is our understanding that no final decisions have been made.”
Coach John Hynes said the Predators are still planning for the trip.
“We're excited to go. We're certainly preparing to go,” Hynes said. “Right now, it's in the league's hands. Until things go on with that, we're just going to continue to prepare as we're going to go.”
Maybe they still are going.
But for now, the Predators appear stuck in limbo until final decisions are made about two games that have long been atop their 2022-23 schedule.
Reach Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at email@example.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville Predators' Prague trip being scrapped wouldn't help Ukraine