- Jim Kelley
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Columbus Blue Jackets winger Nikolai Zherdev did not practice Monday amid conflicting accounts regarding his future in the league, his Russian military status and even the status of one of his Russian coaches, Vasily Tikhonov.
Blue Jackets spokesman Todd Sharrock said Zherdev's day off was "intentional." Sharrock added that the team thought Zherdev, 19, needed the rest after his hectic week. Zherdev is expected back at practice Tuesday and to play in Columbus' next game, Wednesday against Philadelphia -- "unless there is a decision regarding Nikolai that would change that," Sharrock said.
But the Russian daily, Sport Express, is reporting that Russian officials expect Zherdev back in Moscow "this week." Sport Express also reports that full documentation of Zherdev's conscription in the Russian Army has been submitted to the Russian Ice Hockey Federation by the Central Red Army team (CSKA). International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel is quoted as having seen the documentation.
The paper also reports that NHL executive vice president Bill Daly, the league's chief legal counsel, is scheduled to travel to Zurich, Switzerland, for a pre-arranged meeting regarding the World Cup. There, he is expected to meet with Russian hockey officials in an attempt to prevent an arbitration hearing.
Daly, attending the winter meetings of the league's Board of Governors in Florida, could not be reached for comment.
It's unlikely Zherdev, who has maintained he is not a Russian soldier and has not taken an oath, will face disciplinary action if he returns to Russia "soon," the paper added.
A source told ESPN.com that Zherdev was using his day off to contemplate his future -- to either stay in Columbus or return to Russia -- and that he will make a decision by Tuesday or Wednesday. The Blue Jackets likely support his decision either way.
An IIHF source also told ESPN.com that Vasily Tikhonov -- son of the legendary Russian coach Viktor Tikhonov, who coaches CSKA -- was at the center of the controversy involving Zherdev. That allegation was supported by Zherdev shortly after he arrived in Columbus.
While he was receiving medical treatment, Viktor Tikhonov temporarily handed control of the team to his son. The younger Tikhonov reportedly cut Zherdev's ice time over a period of games and made him a healthy scratch on Nov. 29, which prompted Zherdev to bolt for Columbus.
The IIHF source indicated Vasily Tikhonov likely will face disciplinary action.
Fast-paced, yet murky developments have been the norm since Zherdev bolted Russia and made his way to Columbus last week amid charges that he was a member of the Russian army and was under obligation to return.
Though Zherdev is Ukrainian by birth, an IIHF official told ESPN.com Monday that he has a Russian passport and is therefore regarded as a Russian citizen. A copy of his passport is on file with the IIHF and was used as proof of citizenship when Zherdev's name was submitted to the IIHF for verification of his nationality in order to play for Russia at last year's World Junior Championships.
While Fasel's claims and Zherdev's Russian passport support Russia's assertion that Zherdev is subject to serving a mandatory commitment to the Russian military, it doesn't completely close the loophole that has been exposed in the agreement between the NHL and the IIHF. While the clause states that "nothing in this agreement is intended to permit any player to avoid his country's obligation of compulsory military service," mandatory military service has not applied uniformly nor have Russian officials specified which players are subjected to it.
Zherdev arrived in Toronto on Nov. 30, then traveled to Ottawa, where he met up with his agent and a member of the Blue Jackets organization. There he obtained his work visa to enter the United States. He arrived in Columbus in time to play in last Tuesday's game against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. He has a goal and an assist in three games with the Blue Jackets.
Jim Kelley is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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