Olympic roster deadline at issue

Updated: December 30, 2009, 5:59 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

The NHL and NHL Players' Association have sent a letter to the International Ice Hockey Federation, ESPN.com has learned, underlining their expressed concern with Russia's stated intention to potentially change its Olympic hockey roster regardless of injury.

The NHL and the players' union, sources told ESPN.com, reiterated in the letter to the IIHF that according to the agreement reached by all parties, Jan. 1 is indeed a final roster deadline for the Olympics and any changes could only be made in case of bonafide injuries.

Russian coach Slava Bykov raises eyebrows around the hockey community on Christmas Day when he suggested that his announced roster was a provisional list and that he could change players based on performance right up to the eve of the Olympics.

"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?"

The IIHF, when reached by ESPN.com last Saturday, also backed Russia's claim.

"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 to ESPN.com Saturday. "The only provision is that all players must be on the WADA list for anti-doping purposes."

But the NHL immediately disputed that, deputy commissioner Bill Daly saying in an e-mail to ESPN.com Saturday that teams "cannot substitute for players unless there is a bona fide injury."

Then the league and players' union made their concerns with the IIHF official with a letter Tuesday, asking the IIHF to clarify the situation with all involved countries.

Pierre LeBrun covers hockey for ESPN.com.