Different interpretations of Olympic injury replacement rule?

December, 27, 2009

The most fascinating thing coming out of Russia's 2010 Olympic team announcement on Christmas Day, at least to me, was the comment from coach Vyacheslav Bykov, who said he might change players between now and the opener in mid-February if their performance level dropped.

"I wouldn't guarantee a place on the Olympic team to anyone," Bykov was quoted as saying. "If my players can't perform up to the standards playing for their respective clubs, then how can I rely on them in Vancouver?"

That caught many people around the hockey world off guard. It was assumed by most people that only injury replacements were allowed between a country's roster announcement this week and the Olympic opener. But that is apparently not the case, depending on whom you believe. An International Ice Hockey Federation spokesman told ESPN.com on Saturday that rosters announced this week can be changed by the federations up until they are made official on the eve of the Olympic hockey tournament.

"It's a provisional roster and it can be changed prior to the final roster on Feb. 15," Szymon Szemberg of the IIHF said in an e-mail Saturday. "The only provision is that all players must be on the WADA list for anti-doping purposes."

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly disagreed with that, saying in an e-mail that teams "cannot substitute for players unless there is a bona fide injury."

But what the Russians do won't change how the United States and Canada operate. Both teams confirmed to ESPN.com on Saturday that they will only make roster changes if there's an injury.

"The deal the U.S. Olympic Committee has with us is that we will announce the team and not change it [unless there is an injury]," Team USA GM Brian Burke said Saturday.

Technically speaking, Team Canada could actually change its roster right up to Jan. 25, the deadline for all Canadian sports federations to submit their lists of athletes to the Canadian Olympic Committee. But as I said above, Team Canada will respect what it believes to be the spirit of the agreement between the IIHF, the NHL and NHL Players' Association.

"We will only look at changes in the case of an injury," Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson told ESPN.com on Saturday.

The question is, does this give Russia an unfair advantage? And, if so, are the Russians playing with fire by testing the patience of the NHL on this issue given that the league's participation in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is no sure thing?

One Russian observer suggested to me Saturday that Bykov is under fire by some Russian power brokers for not picking enough Kontinental Hockey League players. That's right, nine was apparently not enough. It was hoped the roster would be split evenly between KHL and NHL players. The observer wondered if Bykov's comments about possible roster changes were simply made to deflect the criticism of his picks.

No invite for Zubov?!
After Russia announced its Olympic roster, must of the focus was on the omission of Alexei Kovalev, but, to me, the really big surprise exclusion was Sergei Zubov.

The veteran star defenseman is having an outstanding season in the KHL with 25 points (6-19) in 36 games while playing more than 24 minutes a game. But according to a source close to the situation, the former Dallas Stars blueliner was left off the Olympic team because Bykov was angry at him for turning down a national team invitation for a November tournament. At the time, Zubov had a minor injury and wasn't 100 percent, so that's why he passed on the event.

For a pressure-packed tournament like the Olympics, it seems silly the Russians would not have wanted Zubov's poise and leadership to help settle down a young but dynamic roster.

Plekanec and the market
Tomas Plekanec entered Saturday's play with 43 points (7-36) in 39 games, good for sixth in NHL scoring. And it just so happens the 27-year-old Czech center is slated for unrestricted free agency July 1. Cha-ching.

There have been no talks so far this season between the Montreal Canadiens and his agent Rick Curran, and that's because he can't do a new deal until January at the earliest. As per the collective-bargaining agreement, any player on a one-year deal can't talk contract again until Jan. 1 at the earliest.

It's safe to say he'll be getting a raise on the $2.75 million he's earning this season, whether that's in Montreal or not.

What's intriguing is how Canadiens GM Bob Gainey will play this one. Last season, he didn't deal with any of his potential UFAs until after the season. Will that policy remain the same this season? Curran said his client loves it in Montreal, but, at this point, wasn't sure whether the Habs will come calling next week when the calendar turns to January.

"I have no idea. I always try to respect the club's policy," Curran told ESPN.com this week. "And it really doesn't matter to me or Tomas. Right now, Tomas is grateful that things have come back together the way they have in the past and the way he had expected they would.

"Bob Gainey has always been very good and very professional about Tomas. He's also been a big supporter of Tomas as a hockey player."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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