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Nylander among latest to flee from Edmonton

Poor Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe: It's bad enough he can't keep players who actually agree to come to Edmonton (see Chris Pronger, Jaroslav Spacek, Michael Peca, et al.), now the players are fleeing before they actually set skate in the city -- and they're fleeing to other locales for less money than the Oilers are willing to pay them.

In a move that makes both agent Mike Gillis and center Michael Nylander appear out of touch and duplicitous, Nylander agreed to a contract with the Oilers. And then, before the contract was confirmed and signed by all parties, Nylander reneged and signed for less money with the Washington Capitals -- once again leaving the Oilers red-faced and paying a surprisingly heavy price for their geography.

The case that saw Nylander reportedly agree to a four-year deal worth $19.5 million with Washington -- $2.5 million less than the deal Nylander had agreed to with the Oilers -- has the NHL investigating and has some folks calling for a change to the signing process.

Currently there is nothing binding a player to a team until all of the contractual paperwork is completed and examined by team, agent, player and ultimately the league. That is a process that can take anywhere from several hours to a day to complete. It was a large enough gap for Nylander to pull the old switcheroo.

One long-time agent suggested to ESPN.com Thursday there needs to be some sort of binding mechanism put into place after a deal is reached that would cover teams during the down time before the paperwork is finalized with the league.

"I feel really bad for Edmonton," the agent said.

Sadly for Lowe, he learned about the change of heart not from Nylander or Gillis, which would have been the honorable thing, but from a reporter who was puzzled about reports of Nylander's signing in Washington.
In an interview with veteran Edmonton writers Jim Matheson and Terry Jones after the deal fell apart, Lowe said both Nylander and Gillis expressed remorse. They suggested one of the stumbling blocks was Nylander's wife who must be friends with Chris Pronger's wife. She was apparently the catalyst for Pronger's unseemly bolting from Edmonton a year ago.

Unfortunately for Lowe "remorse"cannot win face-offs or help out on the power play.

The league only recognizes signed contracts and there is only one -- the one Nylander signed with the Caps -- which means Nylander's status with Washington isn't going to change. The best the Oilers can hope for is to extract some sort of financial compensation from Gillis and/or Nylander. The league will be monitoring that situation and offer whatever assistance the Oilers might need if it comes to that.

Unfortunately for Lowe, money can't win draws or score goals either, and given the way things are going, it won't even buy him a player who can.

Interesting news out of Guatemala City: The Russian resort city of Sochi was awarded the 2014 Winter Olympic Games this week.

The bid was secured in part by intense lobbying on the part of Russian president Vladimir Putin, who is a huge hockey fan. One would expect the Russians dearly would love to have the NHL on board for the country's first-ever Winter Games. But that's not likely to happen -- or is it?

The long-held assumption has been that the Vancouver Olympic Games in 2010 will be the last Olympic competition for NHL players. While players are largely supportive of taking part (they've been doing so since 1998 in Nagano), owners hate it. The break in the regular season schedule during Olympic years is disruptive, and the threat of injury to top players (see Dominik Hasek in Turin in 2006) is off-putting. Many owners don't believe there is a direct relationship between NHL participation and the league's profile, especially in the United States when the Games are outside North America and television broadcasts can't be guaranteed in prime time

Given that those nations in the run-off to play host to the 2014 Games included South Korea, Austria and Russia, the speculation was that only an Austrian victory would keep the NHL even slightly interested in coming back for 2014. In team owners' eyes, Austria would be a better option because of the popularity of the NHL in Europe and the shorter travel demands compared to the Black Sea area that is home to Sochi and South Korea.

But here's a question to consider:

Is it possible the NHL would consider taking part in the Sochi Olympics if the rogue Russians were to change their stance on signing a transfer agreement with the NHL, NHLPA and International Ice Hockey Federation?

The Russians have refused to sign the deal for more than two years as they want more money from NHL teams who sign their players. Having the Russians on board would make things simpler for NHL clubs to make development and signing of players more streamlined.

It would seem like a major concession if the NHL was to commit to the Russian Games in order to bring the Russians on board -- but never say never.

John Muckler on the move?: He soon will be interviewing for a senior hockey position with the Toronto Maple Leafs if he hasn't already. No surprise given that the Leafs have been trying to shore up their hockey management system for weeks, a process which must be a never-ending source of comfort to current GM John Ferguson. The Leafs were turned down by legendary coach and manager Scotty Bowman and have since turned their attention to Muckler.

Now, there's no questioning Muckler's pedigree. He has five Stanley Cup rings from his tenure as coach and assistant coach with the Oilers, and he was named executive of the year by The Sporting News when he was GM in Buffalo in the late 1990s. But it's interesting to note that Muckler's old team in Ottawa basically has been hamstrung by deals Muckler made during his last two years in Ottawa. Saddled with expensive contracts given to backup netminder Martin Gerber (two years remaining at $3.7 million per year), defenseman Joe Corvo (three more years on a four-year deal worth $11 million) and Peter Schaefer (three more years at a total cost of $6.7 million), the Senators have been bystanders during the free-agent period, with little hope of moving any of the aforementioned players.

Indeed, the Ottawa Sun reported this week new GM Bryan Murray is toying with the idea of sending Gerber to the AHL next season to free up cap room. Then there's Muckler's parting gift to the Senators: the $1.064-million offer sheet extended Oleg Saprykin who was acquired by Muckler at the trade deadline a year ago and who was a healthy scratch for much of the playoffs. Saprykin is expected to pass and head back to Russia where he'll make more, but it's that kind of wheeling and dealing that has left the Senators in a bind and have hockey people quietly suggesting the Senators didn't reach the Stanley Cup finals this spring because of Muckler's deals -- but in spite of them.

Of course, the perpetually dysfunctional management group in Toronto never has let matters like that sway it in an unwavering bid to extend the team's 40-year Stanley Cup drought. Carry on.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.