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Friday, July 14, 2006

Why Malkin's signing is taking so long

Evgeni Malkin: still waiting ( photo)

When Evgeni Malkin's signing with Pittsburgh was announced as all but done by several Russian sources about a month ago, then quickly retracted by most of those same sources a few days later, I presumed that it would only be a matter of days before the actual signing would be officially announced. Just as the Russians keep dragging their feet about ratifying the IIHF - NHL transfer agreement (announced as a done deal a while ago, yet still not quite completed), the official act of getting Malkin's name on a piece of paper finds itself getting delayed, also.

Dave Molinari, a writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, addressed the Malkin issue in a question-and-answer session from today's edition of the Post-Gazette:

Q: Are you started to get a little worried that Russia has not signed off on the transfer agreement? A story out of Russia says that Evgeni Malkin's team is the only one not willing to sign.

MOLINARI: When owners of teams in Russia's Super League endorsed the NHL's transfer agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation -- a deal that establishes the price and procedures for NHL clubs that want to bring players who are under contract to European teams to North America -- June 9, the deal was supposed to be formalized a week later.

That didn't happen, and the Stanley Cup Final, which still wasn't over, was the apparent culprit. After that, it was the NHL draft. Well, that was over weeks ago, and the transfer agreement still hasn't been signed, which is why the Penguins still have Malkin's name on their 2006-07 roster in pencil, not ink.

At this point, though, there is nothing to indicate that the parties won't get the deal finalized this summer. While Malkin's team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, has made no secret of its displeasure with the terms of the transfer agreement -- mostly because it will cost the team the services of Malkin, the Super League's best player -- it's hard to see how that will be a significant factor in how this situation plays out. Or, more important, how it could prevent Malkin from coming to the Penguins once Russia actually signs the transfer agreement.

This simple truth is, if the Russian Federation takes the steps needed to make deal official, an individual club such as Magnitogorsk can't opt out of participating just because it doesn't like it. That would be like Pennsylvania refusing to recognize Bush as President just because Kerry won the state during the 2004 election.

The person asking the question, as well as Molinari's answer, is right on the money. Within a week after Russian Hockey Federation president Vadislav Tretiak's announcement in early June that an agreement had been reached in principle among the Russian teams for ratifying the transfer agreement, the most hard-line of the dissenting clubs, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, sent an open letter to Tretiak protesting the arrangement. Not suprisingly, being the team with the most to lose at this point (the transfer fee for Malkin being a mere $300,000 to $900,000, depending upon which report you read), Metallurg Mg remains bitterly opposed to the transfer agreement, as well as opposing the other reforms within Russian hockey in general that Tretiak has managed to push through in the short time since taking his post as head of the RHF.

The rhetoric was ratcheted up a notch earlier this week when Pavel Krasheninnikov, the VP of Metallurg Magnitogorsk, finally conceded in a Sport Express article that the transfer agreement ratification will eventually go through. Krasheninnikov didn't stop there, though, calling Gary Bettman and the NHL "blackmailers" for threatening to withhold Russian NHL players from joining the Russian National Team if the transfer agreement wasn't ratified.

Krasheninnikov's comments in the article were, "This agreement contradicts the interests of Russian hockey. At the same time, we understand that, next spring, Russia will host the World Championships. If we do not ratify the transfer agreement, the threat of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to forbid our players from participating is very real. In my view, the NHL is simply blackmailing Russia. We have been pushed up against a wall, and are being forced to go in the NHL's direction. However, the current transfer agreement is good for only one more year. When the time comes for a new agreement, we will negotiate from a completely different position."

Sounds like a good news/bad news scenario to me.


Blogger Brushback said...


A story about Russia's delay in signing the NHL-IIHF transfer agreement started making the rounds in the regular media yesterday.

From the Canadian Press and Globe and Mail, "Russia stalls on signing NHL-IIHF transfer deal":

Maybe star centre Evgeni Malkin won't play in the NHL next season after all, because Russia has yet to officially join the NHL-IIHF transfer agreement.

What looked like a done deal weeks ago is now stalling and it's not clear whether Russia will officially sign the document.

"Right now, it's issues that exist between the IIHF and the Russian Federation," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Monday from New York. "My understanding is that they are trying to schedule an in-person meeting in the near future. Our position is that while we think the transfer agreement is important and beneficial to the sport, if it doesn't get done the players are going to come here anyway."

Russian League club owners are the ones who continue to resist signing. New Russian hockey federation head Vladislav Tretiak, it appeared, had smoothed things over in early June with them. Both Tretiak and the NHL were somewhat confident at the time that an official announcement would soon happen.

But the Russian clubs continued to dither and the deal still isn't done.

"The IIHF and (IIHF president) Rene Fasel is doing everything to bring the Russians on board, but there is no deal just yet," IIHF spokesman Szymon Szemberg said Monday in an email from Switzerland.

7/18/06, 9:31 AM


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