With hockey on hiatus in the KHL, the Russian sports publication, Sports Express, is running a series of articles on hockey players who ultimately failed to live up to their potential.
On April 10, 2020, the featured player was defenseman Mikhail Tartarinov who played for the Caps during the 1990-91 season. He also represented the Soviet Union in the IIHF Under 18 and the World Junior Championships, as well as other international tournaments.
Tartarinov, an 11th round draft pick by the Washington Capitals in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, was considered the best defensemen for the Soviets at the time. He even nearly made it to the 1988 Olympic games. He made his NHL debut during the 1990-91 season, but was out of the NHL just three seasons later, and in 2001, was imprisoned for murder.
Tatarinov was born in Angarsk, a Siberian city in the Soviet Union, on July 16, 1966, and started playing with the Sokol Kiev club for three years. But after the Chernobyl incident, it was no longer safe to stay there; hence, he switched to Moscow Dynamo where he played for over four seasons. Tatarinov left Kiev in such a big hurry that he left behind the medals he had won as part of the World Junior Championships and the plate he had won for being the best defenseman.
Throughout his early career, most observers admired his great shot; however, it was hazardous for goalies. On one occasion with Dynamo, he had injured his own goalie with his shot in practice, resulting in the goalie requiring multiple stitches.
Tatarinov nearly participated in the 1988 Olympics, however, he ended up breaking his jaw in two places in a collision with Zinetula Bilyaletdinov and, thus, was unable to go. This situation negatively affected him, and he started having problems with alcohol abuse. At one point, Dynamo coach, Igor Tusik, had the police help look for him. He was treated for substance abuse and it was successful enough that he quit for five years.
The Washington Capitals had drafted him in the eleventh round (#225 overall) of the 1984 NHL Entry draft. However, he did not join the team until 1990. The Caps had previously attempted to convince him to defect from Russia, but he kept declining. Tatarinov ultimately ended up being the first young Soviet player to play in the NHL without having defected.
The Caps had struck a deal with Moscow Dynamo so that he could come over and play with them, which he did in late October of 1999. The Caps issued him uniform #3, which was the number held by Scott Stevens prior to him leaving the team as a restricted free agent.
Tatarinov had a good first year with the team, scoring 8 goals and recording 15 assists for 23 points overall. But he tore his hamstring just before the playoffs and was unavailable for postseason play.
He was traded to the Quebec Nordiques in the off season. Players and team officials indicated it was more because of issues off the ice than on the ice. He did not seem to make enough of an effort to blend in with the team, such as sunbathing in Baltimore while recovering from his injury, instead of spending time with his teammates in the locker room.
He also was someone who marched to his own drummer. Not all the off ice issues were his fault. His wife, Natasha, who had never previously been outside the Soviet Union, was homesick. Also, his two year old son, Vladimir, had to be tested for a heart murmur.
Tatarinov had a better year for them than he had for the Caps, scoring 11 goals and recording 27 assists. He also suffered injuries, including a strained ribcage in November and an injured neck in March. He was bothered by even more injures during the 1992-93 season, with his back issues being chronic.
However, his contract expired, and he and the Nordiques had trouble agreeing on a new contract, so he filed for arbitration, but lost and ultimately left the Nordiques.
The Boston Bruins then signed him before the 1993-94 season. But the injury issues persisted. Bruins’ head coach, Brian Sutter, was contemptuous of him for smoking and for being overweight, so he was sent down to their AHL affiliate in Providence.
Unfortunately he reverted to alcoholism there, as many of the players there would drink three or four cans of beer on a road trip. But he would drink nearly a whole case.
His contract with Boston was terminated and he went returned to Russia. That was the end of his NHL career. Tatarinov had played in 161 NHL games and scored 21 goals and recorded 48 assists. He tried to return to Dynamo and also explored options of signing with Finnish and Swedish teams. But ultimately his alcoholism was a deterrent to any of those teams signing him. He never again played professional hockey.
He also became addicted to gambling, both cards and casino gambling. Because he missed a deadline for paying a gambling debt, according to the article, a hired man came to his apartment to try to collect it. This resulted in Tatarinov killing the hired man. He confessed the deed to the police and the prosecutor recommended fourteen years in jail.
Fortunately, a competent defense lawyer argued that the murder was a “crime of passion” and he was sentenced to eleven months in jail and two years of probation. Conditions in prison were crowded – 17 persons in one cell.
After being released from prison, he and his wife divorced. He had trouble with alcohol addiction and lived the life of a homeless person. Eventually, he became involved with a new woman, Lyuba.
Lyuba and some his old teammates from the USSR National team convinced him to go to the hospital for alcohol rehabilitation, with an old teammate of his, Anatoly Feditov, paid for his stay there. After leaving the treatment program, he married Lyuba. He still had his addictions with gambling to deal with.
At the present time, he and Lyuba are raising their son from their marriage. He is also coaching youth hockey in Irkutsk.
By Diane Doyle
Sports Express Article on Mikhail Tatarionov
Wash Post: Capitals Get Their Man — 11/13/1990
Wash Post: Soviet Focus of Negotiations — 11/15/1990
Wash Post: Gratifying Experience for GM Poile — 12/13/1990
Wash Post: Article in 1992 About Tatarionov on the Nordiques — 11/10/1991
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NoVa Caps: History of Russian Players on Caps