NFL

Grading the Week: Sorry, Valeri Nichushkin, we can’t trust Vladimir Putin with the Stanley Cup

Congratulations, Valeri Nichushkin, you’re three wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Apologies, Valeri Nichushkin, even if the Avs get those three W’s against the Tampa Bay Lightning, you won’t be able to drink from it in your native Russia.

Such is the state of global affairs in the wake of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s unilateral decision to invade Ukraine. Thanks to his unprovoked attack, the rest of his countrymen are treated like accomplices.

NHL — A-

The NHL joined the fray earlier this week when it announced that the most hallowed trophy in all of sports would not be allowed inside Putin’s Russia following the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Final.

In doing so, the league broke a long-standing tradition of allowing every Stanley Cup champion one day to do whatever they want with the Cup.

While the Grading the Week staff applauds the league’s efforts to condemn the autocratic leader’s abhorrent invasion of her neighbor, it’s certainly unfortunate that Nichushkin must also pay a price for a decision he played no part in.

The Avalanche forward isn’t some billionaire Russian oligarch propping up Putin’s regime. Nor is he indirectly benefitting from the personal riches it produces — like, say, some of our LIV Golf buddies via their Saudi Arabian backers.

Outside of condemning the attacks — and potentially making his family back home the subject of reprisals — Val doesn’t exactly hold much say over the whole thing. And that was something he acknowledged when asked about the war earlier this week.

“If you can’t do anything, you don’t have to worry about it,” the winger told reporters.

That said, it’s understandable why the NHL is apprehensive about allowing the Cup to travel into territory controlled by Putin.

We’re talking about a man who was once handed a Super Bowl ring by Patriots owner Robert Kraft, then promptly declined to give it back to him. More recently, and much more egregiously, his government has detained WNBA superstar Brittney Griner for months for the alleged crime of carrying hashish oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport.

Translation: Once someone, or something, comes within his sphere of influence, Putin is more than willing to exert every bit of control he can over them for whatever political purpose he sees fit.

All-England Club — F

Of course, the Grading the Week staff is old enough to remember when Eastern Europeans such as Nichushkin were locked out of major North American professional sports leagues.

This was, of course, during the Cold War era, when prodigious talents such as Lithuanian big man Arvydas Sabonis and Russian defenseman Alexander Ragulin rarely ventured outside the Iron Curtain. About the only time anyone west of the Berlin Wall got to see them was when they suited up for the CCCP in international competitions.

Now we appear to be slowly veering in that direction once again, with Russian tennis stars such as Daniil Medvedev banned from appearing in Wimbledon after the next fortnight.

While we understand the stand the All England Club is trying to make, it’s hardly an appropriate solution.

The NHL might not let Nichushkin bring home the Cup, but at least he can compete for it.

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