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Commentary: Russian players hit rough patch of ice

by on March 23, 2014 2:00 AM

Maybe they got the Winter Olympics in just in time.

What would President Obama have done if Russian quasi-czar Vladimir Putin had decided to try out his USSR-lite before the Olympics in Sochi? Would he have had any choice but to boycott the Games?

Cynical people around the world are a little suspicious that Vlad the Creeper planned all along to move on Crimea about 20 minutes after the closing ceremonies.

Obviously, the Olympics are trivial compared to the news coming out of Ukraine, and that makes the effect of the Russian problem on the NHL really trivial, but if Putin’s actions turn into Cold War Lite, won’t that make for a lot of uncomfortable Russian players on NHL teams?

Evgeni Malkin, for example.

He and his former teammate on the Russian Olympic team, Alexander Ovechkin, made it very clear that they still have strong feelings for Mother Russia when they said that they would play in the Olympics with or without the NHL’s permission.

If the Russians and the Americans get into a serious international showdown, it will become a topic in NHL locker rooms, and the media will start asking geopolitical questions. 

I saw the Soviet national team play several times, and what I remember almost as much as the ridiculously talented players are the omni-present KGB thugs. Never saw one smile. They were there to prevent Soviet players from escaping to America. 

If you were Malkin, would you be feeling good about going home for the summer? Would you have some doubts about being allowed to come back? He surely has plenty of relatives who remember the days of the USSR, when the government controlled their every move. 

Is it farfetched to suggest that Putin would try to keep prominent Russian citizens from contributing to the U.S. economy? 

Do you think Jaromir Jagr, who, since coming to the United States as an 18-year-old six months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, has worn number 68 as a reminder of the USSR’s 1968 invasion of his home country of Czechoslovakia, gets a little nervous when he sees Russians on the march?

There are 33 active Russian players in the NHL right now. Nobody should blame them if they’re a little more distracted than usual for the rest of this hockey season. Can’t blame the more than 40 players from former USSR satellite countries if they spend a little more time than usual thinking about home, either. 

• Each major league baseball team throws an average of 146 pitches a game. That’s about 10 more per game than 1968. So let’s say that since 1900 the average pitches per team is 140 or 280 per game. That means that the average team throws 22,680 pitches per year. There are 30 teams. That’s 680,400 pitches thrown in the major leagues every year. That’s not counting exhibition games.

One of those exhibition game pitches came back and struck Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman in the face Wednesday, and it didn’t take long for the hysteria about the dangers of being a pitcher to begin. It was a horrific sight and a serious injury, with Chapman undergoing surgery to fix a broken orbital bone. But, really, are pitchers, based on the number of pitches thrown and the miniscule numbers of batted balls that have come back and caused serious injury, really in danger?

If major league baseball adopted the NFL’s stance on injury, there would be a movement to have MLB pitchers throw from behind those batting practice cages during games.

Chapman’s injury, as serious and scary as it was, is actually a reminder of how amazing it is that a human can throw a hard object at another human, standing 60 feet, 6 inches away swinging a wooden club, and 999,999 times out of a million, nobody gets hurt. 

• The fact that it might make sense for the Steelers to bring back James Harrison next season speaks volumes about where the Steelers are right now.

• With all the ridiculous lawsuits clogging up our courts, it amazes me that a taxpaying parent of a high school hockey-playing son hasn’t sued a school district for not supporting his son while his taxes support the football-playing son of his neighbor.

• There’s another NFL executive who has finally heeded my call to do something about field goals.

Rich McKay, general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said NFL kickers made 86.6 percent of their kicks in 2014 compared to 59 percent in 1970 and, “We have looked at it and I think it will be something that will be talked about going forward.”

Just remember, you heard it here first.

And second.

And third.

And fourth.

• You may or may not be emotional about the Steelers signing former New Orleans Saints wide receiver Lance Moore on Friday, but his former quarterback, Drew Brees, was emotional about losing him.

“Moore was always an unsung hero. He was just the quiet guy who just made plays and did what we asked him to do. You enjoy coming to work every day to be around guys like Lance.”

Sounds like a miniature Heath Miller.

John Steigerwald's blog can be found at, and he is the author of "Just Watch The Game." His column appears each Saturday.
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