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Russian team's request for Malkin injunction denied

NEW YORK -- Evgeni Malkin was cleared to stay with the
Pittsburgh Penguins after a federal judge denied a demand by his
former Russian club that he be yanked from the NHL.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk, a Russian Super League team, claims that
Malkin is under contract in his native country. The club sought a
preliminary injunction that would have banned the forward from
playing for the Penguins until the matter is resolved.

But the ruling Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Loretta A.
Preska clears the way for Malkin, a star rookie with Penguins, and
minor leaguers Andrei Taratukhin of the Calgary Flames and Alexei
Mikhnov of the Edmonton Oilers to stick with the NHL franchises.

Led by Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Russian clubs sued in October
claiming that the NHL broke U.S. antitrust law and improperly
interfered in their business affairs by signing away players who
were still under contract.

The deal with the International Ice Hockey Federation calls for
the NHL to pay a $200,000 fee when it signs European players, but
Russian hockey officials declined to sign the agreement on the
grounds that they were unfairly compensated for top talent.

Since then, the world's two top hockey leagues have been at
odds.

In August, the NHL told its clubs they were free to sign
contracts with Russian hockey players already under contract.

Malkin, 20, had just signed a one-year contract with Metallurg
Magnitogorsk when he abruptly left camp to join the Penguins this
fall.

In retaliation, the Russian clubs asked the U.S. courts to issue
an injunction benching the players in North America and returning
them to their old teams while the case was fought.

Preska ruled that the Russians hadn't met the standard for a
preliminary injunction. To do so, she said, they would have had to
prove that the players' absence from the Russian league was causing
their former teams irreparable harm.

The courts have generally found that the loss of a star athlete
can indeed constitute such a harm, but Preska said that in this
case, the Russian clubs appeared to be more concerned with wresting
larger player transfer fees from the NHL than maintaining their
competitiveness.

"These cases were always about money," Preska said. "The only
issue is how much."

The ruling doesn't stop the case for good, but all but ensures
that Malkin, Taratukhin and Mikhnov will remain with their NHL
teams.

"Obviously we are very disappointed," said Alexander
Berkovich, the attorney for the Russian clubs.

He rejected the notion that the dispute was all about money,
saying his clients were more concerned with winning than wringing
dollars from the NHL.

"They need the best players," he said. "Regrettably, it's not
going to happen in this case."

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a written statement
that he hoped the ruling would persuade the Russian clubs to
"discontinue their strategy of litigation," and engage in "good
faith negotiations" about the future system for player transfers.

In the absence of an agreement, the NHL has maintained that
Russian labor law allows players there to quit with two weeks' notice, freeing them to play elsewhere with no compensation due to
their former clubs.

Malkin has a team-high nine goals and six assists in 12 games for the
Penguins this season.

"We always have been confident in our position in Evgeni's
case," said Tom McMillan, the Penguins' vice president of
communications. "We are very happy for Evgeni, his family and
Penguins fans."