SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Reports that Russian gangsters have forced Russian NHL players to pay protection money to ensure the safety of family members back home came as no surprise to San Jose Sharks executive Dean Lombardi.
Lombardi, the team's director of hockey operations, said the issue became a concern when he was trying to sign wing Alexander Cherbayev last season.
"I've heard stories about that kind of thing going on over there," Lombardi said when asked about a report that in Thursday's editions of Montreal's French newspaper, La Presse. "I don't have any concrete information, but it's something I've been hearing about for the last two or three years.
"I would assume that if it was going on then, it's still going on now. I've never heard it from a player, but I've heard it from officials around the leagues over there."
The Sharks have several Russians in their organization. Veteran forwards Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov are on the major-league roster. And Cherbayev, a third-round pick in the 1992 NHL entry draft, Andrei Nazarov, a first-round pick in 1992, and Mikhail Kravets, a 12th-round pick in 1991, are with the Kansas City Blades of the International Hockey League. Viktor Kozlov, the Sharks' first-round pick this year, still is in Russia, playing for Dynamo Moscow.