- Jim Kelley
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The 19-year-old Zherdev, the fourth overall pick in the 2003 draft, arrived in Columbus on Dec. 2 amid charges by Russian officials that he is a conscripted soldier. After a hectic week which included playing his first three NHL games, Zherdev took Monday off to contemplate his future, sources close to the situation told ESPN.com.
"Questions regarding his military status in Russia are being investigated by the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and we will allow due process to take its course with regards to this matter," the Blue Jackets said in a statement. "We will work with the NHL to clarify his status vis-a-vis the agreement between the NHL and the IIHF and will abide by any decision that is made at the end of this process.
"Meanwhile, Nikolai will continue to practice and play as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets Hockey Club."
NHL executive vice president and chief legal counsel Bill Daly is scheduled to be at the IIHF's offices in Zurich, Switzerland, on Wednesday to discuss the matter with representatives of that organization and the Russian Ice Hockey Federation.
The Blue Jackets signed Zherdev to a three-year contract in August and paid the $100,000 transfer fee required in the agreement with the IIHF to acquire his release from the Central Red Army team (CSKA). Without proper documentation proving Zherdev is a conscripted soldier, Daly confirmed his eligibility to play in the NHL.
The agreement between the IIHF and the NHL states that "nothing in this agreement is intended to permit any player to avoid his country's obligation of compulsory military service," however Zherdev maintains he never took a military oath. The Russian daily, Sport Express, reports that full documentation of Zherdev's conscription in the Russian Army has been submitted to the Russian Ice Hockey Federation by CSKA. IIHF president Rene Fasel is quoted as having seen the documentation.
Jim Kelley is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
8dScott Burnside and Craig Custance