Penguins pick Malkin skates out on his Russian club
PITTSBURGH -- Evgeni Malkin, the star forward and Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick who has said repeatedly he wants to play in the NHL, left his Russian pro team during a training camp in Finland on Saturday, various Russian news services reported.
It was uncertain whether Malkin bolted from the team in an attempt to get to North America and play for the Penguins this season, but the Itar-Tass news agency, citing a source within the club, reported Malkin took his belongings and passport with him.
Malkin's departure from Metallurg Magnitogorsk of Russia's Super League would be yet another unexpected turn in an ever-changing story in which the Olympics star renegotiated his Russian contract from two seasons to one season last week, at the same time his North American-based agents were saying he wants to play in the NHL as soon as possible.
Malkin's agent, JP Barry, didn't immediately return a phone message. Penguins spokesman Tom McMillan said the club had no comment on the report.
In another curious twist, the Russian daily newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported last week that Malkin recently opened a new restaurant in Metallurg designed to resemble a Russian jail, complete with bars on the windows, aluminum forks, waitresses in striped prison garb and portraits of Soviet dictators. Malkin was quoted as saying he wanted to open similar restaurants in other Russian cities.
Malkin was the No. 2 pick in the 2004 draft behind last year's NHL rookie of the year, fellow Russian Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. But he did not play in the NHL last season because the league lacked a transfer agreement with the Russian ice hockey federation.
This spring, it appeared Russia would go along with a transfer agreement already reached with the main European ice hockey federations and the International Ice Hockey Federation calling for a $200,000 transfer fee paid to each country when one of its players left for the NHL. But, apparently because the Mettalurg team felt Malkin's rights were worth 10 times that amount, Russia has not signed the agreement.
However, Malkin's former agent, Don Meehan, said Russian law allowed Malkin to leave his team -- despite having a signed contract -- merely by submitting a letter of resignation. Malkin, under heavy pressure to stay with his Russian team, presumably may have renegotiated his contract last weekend merely to buy time before deciding the best course to get to the NHL this season.
Barry told The Associated Press last week that, despite Russian news agency reports of the reworked contract, Malkin had every intention of trying to play for the Penguins soon. Barry and Pat Brisson were Malkin's agents until June, when Meehan took over, but have since been rehired by Malkin. They did not play any role in his Russian contract talks.
The 6-foot-3 Malkin is widely regarded in hockey circles as being the best player in the world not playing in the NHL. The Penguins badly want Malkin to join a youthful team that already includes Sidney Crosby, who had 102 points last season as an 18-year-old rookie, and Jordan Staal, the No. 2 pick in the recent NHL draft.
Malkin led Metallurg with 47 points, including 21 goals, in 46 games last season. He had two goals and six points for Russia in the Turin Olympics.
If Malkin is attempting to defect while in Finland, he would be the best-known hockey player to do so since Alexander Mogilny left the Soviet Union team following the world junior championships in Sweden in 1989 and defected to the United States so he could play for the Buffalo Sabres.
If Malkin does intend to play for the Penguins this season, his contract negotiations likely would go quickly. Under the NHL labor agreement, he would make slightly less than $1 million in salary, plus bonuses that would be negotiated with the team.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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