Pens' pick Malkin safe; Russian team threatens suit

Updated: August 14, 2006, 6:39 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins aren't saying where Russian star Evgeni Malkin is, or when they expect to see him. What they do know is he isn't in Russia and, as far as they are concerned, that's very good news.

"My son simply snapped, his nerves did not hold on. In the last moment, they persuaded him to stay in Magnitka, though his mind was already in the NHL."

Vladimir Malkin

The Malkin mystery continued Monday as the 20-year-old star remained out of sight after bolting from his Russian Superleague team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, on Saturday after it arrived for training camp in Helsinki, Finland.

Malkin left with his belongings and passport and, possibly, a Canadian visa. Malkin's former Russian agent, Sergei Isakov, told the Soviet Sport newspaper Malkin had the visa before leaving for Finland. Malkin's North American agents, JP Barry and Pat Brisson, would not confirm that or say where Malkin is, though they believe he is out of harm's way.

"I can tell you I think he is safe, but I cannot comment on anything else," Brisson told The Associated Press.

Penguins vice president Tom McMillan said the team had no comment on any issue regarding Malkin, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 draft and the player widely considered the best in the world not currently playing in the NHL.

That could change by early next month, when Malkin -- now that he is out of Russia -- is expected to sign with the Penguins, if he hasn't already done so, and report to their rookie camp.

Malkin, along with 19-year-old star Sidney Crosby, would immediately give the Penguins one of the best 1-2 center combinations in the NHL and would likely hasten their rebuilding effort following four consecutive last-place finishes.

Only last week, Malkin renegotiated his contract with Mettalurg to trim it to a one-year deal, covering this season, from the two seasons remaining on his former contract. However, Russian law apparently allows any employee to leave a job, even while under contract, by giving two weeks' notice.

Malkin stayed in Russia last season after the country's hockey federation refused to sign a transfer agreement allowing its players to leave for the NHL in return for a $200,000 payment. The Mettalurg team said Malkin's rights were worth far more than that, and it wanted a settlement in the millions of dollars.

"Americans like to speak about democracy and teach the whole world how to live but engage in sport terrorism and simply steal people."

Metallurg general director Gennady Velichkin

Mettalurg, for whom Malkin's father, Vladimir, once played, immediately threatened to sue the Penguins after Malkin abandoned them. However, former Russian stars Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals) and Nikolai Zherdev (Columbus Blue Jackets) left their teams in recent seasons for the NHL, and their Russian teams were unable to successfully sue for compensation.

"We all are really shocked by his departure and we will take legal actions against the NHL club Penguins from Pittsburgh," Metallurg general director Gennady Velichkin told Itar-Tass news agency. "Americans like to speak about democracy and teach the whole world how to live but engage in sport terrorism and simply steal people."

In January, a U.S. District Court judge threw out a case against the Capitals brought by Ovechkin's former club, Moscow Dynamo.

Another issue is whether Malkin's contract contained a clause that allowed him to leave for the NHL. He said in interviews last spring his deal had such a provision.

Malkin's departure hardly was a surprise, new contract or not. He has given numerous interviews saying he wanted to play in the NHL, and recently said he was "95 percent sure" he would play in North America this season.

Malkin's parents were quoted by the Russian newspaper Pravda as saying they hadn't talked to their son and did not know where he was.

"My son simply snapped, his nerves did not hold on," Vladimir Malkin said in the interview. "In the last moment, they persuaded him to stay in Magnitka, though his mind was already in the NHL. I understand him, but I don't support him. It was a childish act. Before I give my final assessment, I need to talk to him personally."

Natalia Malkin, Evgeni's mother, told the newspaper she and her husband tried to call their son but his phone was turned off. She also said, "The management of Mettalurg played on his patriotic feelings. He was not able to refuse. Though, afterward, he told me, 'Mom, they [the Penguins] have already been waiting for me, and I promised.' He left for camp in Finland very disgruntled."

Another question is whether the Penguins may have secretly signed Malkin -- his salary of slightly less than $1 million is already established by the NHL labor agreement-- before he agreed to the reworked contract with his Russian team.

Malkin switched agents in June, from Barry and Brisson to Don Meehan, but went back with Barry and Brisson within the last 10 days. There wasn't, or isn't, much room for negotiations by any agent since Malkin's salary is already established, other than performance bonuses any deal is bound to contain.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press