Some owners cool to Olympic flame

NHL Players' Association executive director Ted Saskin. (Greg Henkenhaf/Toronto Sun)

NHL Players' Association executive director Ted Saskin. (Greg Henkenhaf/Toronto Sun)

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:35 PM ET

With the Winter Olympics, the encroaching trade deadline and tightened playoff races, the pot is boiling on all 30 National Hockey League fronts.

First to Philadelphia, where owner Ed Snider tried to throw some water on the Olympic flame as it pertains to the five Flyers picked for Turin. With Finland's Sami Kapanen and Sweden's Kim Johnsson pulling out because of injury concerns -- following the lead of other banged-up NHLers -- Snider says he wants Peter Forsberg, Robert Esche and Joni Pitkanen to do likewise.

The Flyers have a shot at the Stanley Cup and want to utilize the coming two-week break as rest for the playoffs. The final four teams in Turin will be playing eight games in 12 days.

"I'm a believer in the Olympics and I think it's good for the NHL to participate," Snider said. "Having said that, the people who participate should be the ones who are absolutely healthy. Peter, for example, isn't. I feel bad for Peter, but if he was my son I would tell him to just say no.

"Esche and Pitkanen just got back from serious groin injuries and Forsberg is not able to play as we speak. And the Olympics are just around the corner."

Forsberg is hopeful of getting back in a game late next week and then going to join the Swedes.

"I totally understand (Snider)," Forsberg said. "But I hope they understand that there's big pressure on me from Sweden to play. I play hockey to win and I am proud to represent my country. I would not go if I didn't feel 100% because I know who's paying my salary."

Snider hinted that Esche, at 28, would still be in Team USA's plans for the Vancouver Games in 2010. Esche countered that Turin could make him even sharper for the playoffs.

The league and the players made Olympic participation a tenet of the new collective baragining agreement, but Snider wants that re-examined before 2010.

"I'm sure it will be he said, "and when it is, I'm going to be a part of it."

On Thursday, NHL Players' Association executive director Ted Saskin was supportive of 2010, but worried about the league's condensed schedule surrounding Turin. "One has to be cognizant that this time, the schedule is a little more compressed, so we have to measure that impact and see how that changes the tournament in any way," he said.

OLYMPIC UPDATES

After their Turin goalies jumped ship and defenceman Aki Berg of the Leafs was sidelined by a rib injury, the Finns have lost Osi Vaananen with a broken ankle. Also done this week is Slovakia's Ladislav Nagy, out for the year after undergoing knee surgery yesterday.

Forward Jason Blake of the Islanders was quick to denounce speculation that Sabres hot hand Ryan Miller should be added to the team and pushed ahead of Esche, Rick DiPietro and John Grahame on the goalie chart.

"Let's be a little honest here, Rick DiPietro is the future of USA Hockey just like he's the future of the Islanders," Blake said.

Washington goalie Olaf Kolzig, who has the unenviable task of facing the Czechs and Canadians back to back when Germany opens the tournament, will be bringing his smaller NHL equipment and not the larger gear permitted under IIHF rules. "It's not as much about allowing more shooting room as it is about mobility," Kolzig said. "Playing those two teams, I'll need the mobility."

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Olli Jokinen has followed Roberto Luongo's lead and turned down a big multi-year offer to stay with the Florida Panthers, a reported $16 million US over four years. The captain likely will wait until after the season to talk, a risk for the club as free agency looms ... Ex-Sharks GM Dean Lombardi, a pro scout for the Flyers, has the okay to speak with the Isles about their GM's post. Also in the mix are Brent Sutter and Dallas Stars pro scout John Weisbrod ... Bob Nicholson's interest in leaving Hockey Canada to become president of the Canucks is being contested by Canucks deputy chairman Francesco Aquilini, who has designs on the job, too ... The Oilers are said to be increasing their efforts to land Martin Biron from the Sabres. A longer shot would see Toronto or Phoenix drop out of the playoffs, giving the Oil a chance at Ed Belfour or Curtis Joseph ... Oilers trainer Ken Lowe defended Ethan Moreau from criticism after the forward sprained his ankle playing a quick game of basketball before practice. "He was supposed to be doing some exercise." Lowe said. "Should we be telling the players not to drive to the rinks? Do they need chauffeurs?" ... Tampa defenceman Dan Boyle is growing a playoff beard -- for the Steelers. He and Ben Roethlisberger went to Miami of Ohio, though Boyle is six years older.

LEARNING CURVE

Remember how Ilya Kovalchuk was able to dispose of a suspected illegally curved stick two weeks ago by handing off the evidence on the bench? Late in Tuesday's loss to Buffalo, the Sabres got the officials to nab him red-handed. The Thrashers hope he comes clean.

"It's a matter of showing respect to your entire team, your organization and your fans," coach Bob Hartley said.

"Everybody knows what kind of curve he plays with," teammate Greg de Vries added. "Maybe we should take it upon ourselves to help change it.

"You get close to playoff time like this and (penalties) like that can hurt you."

Kovalchuk, who had not scored in five games entering last night, insisted it wasn't a big deal.

"Half the league plays with illegal sticks, so with anybody it can happen," he said. "I just have to be careful next time. In Europe, it's different rules. You can use a bigger curve there and I play all my life with the same curve."


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