Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Nonis: Russians can't have it both ways

Kiril Koltsov, Avangard Omsk

From The Province, "Russian League Just As Willing To Poach", 8/27/06:

Canucks GM Dave Nonis didn't come right out and say it, but you sensed his gag reflex involuntarily activated when he read about the Russian hockey world's outrage over the NHL's pursuit of Pittsburgh super-prospect Evgeni Malkin.

Malkin, in case you've missed it, slipped away from his club team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, during a tour of Finland a couple of weeks back and popped up in Los Angeles, engendering a furious response from the Magnitogorskians who claim they have a valid contract with Malkin. Young Evgeni, however, seems to prefer his current locale in El Segundo and will probably play in the NHL this season unless the Russians can convince the international tribunal in The Hague to intervene.

Now, for veterans of the first wave of Russian hockey players, the Malkin story has a familiar ring to it. The claims. The counter-claims. The confusion. The 38 people who claimed to be Malkin's agent. But as much fun as it is to revisit the good old days, this is 2006, not 1990, and you'd hope we'd be past this nonsense by now.

"Kiril Koltsov (a Canucks blueline prospect) had a valid contract in place when he left Manitoba last season to play with Omsk," said Nonis. "He's a different level player than Malkin but the principle is the same.

"It's a situation I'm not thrilled about."

As is the case with most everyone in the NHL. The question is, what can they do about it?

As much as the Malkin flapdoodle harkens back to a different time, the NHL's issues with the Russian Super League are a little more complex than they were 16 years ago. True, there is still considerable confusion over the manner in which business is conducted in the Motherland.

But the plain fact is the Russian league provides an alternative for players who believe they are being squeezed by their NHL clubs. And that isn't going to change as along as the Russians offer salaries that are competitive with the NHL.

"NHL teams have preferred to eliminate the middle class," said agent Mark Gandler. "They want to pay their stars and give everyone else the minimum wage. My job as an agent is to deliver what's best for my client in the long run."

And that's where the Russian league comes in. This offseason, Gandler signed three of his clients to deals with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and that development has peeved the NHL mightily.

The three players-- Tampa's Evgeni Artyukhin and the Islanders' Sean Bergenheim and Denis Grebeshkov-- aren't exactly first-ballot Hall of Famers. But they are prospects with an upside who could make more and play more in Russia than they could in the NHL.

Nonis has some first-hand experience with these matters. Backup goalie Mika Noronen you know about. This summer the Canucks also wanted to re-sign checking centre Artem Chubarov after he played in Omsk last season. The problem is Chubarov signed with Dynamo this summer for about $1.4 million US, which is considerably more than the Canucks were willing to pay.

If that wasn't enough, Nonis would like to sign draftees Evgeni Gladskikh-- "He could probably play in our league," the GM said-- and Denis Grot, but both are comfortably ensconced in Russia. The Canucks would even forgive Koltsov but the young blueliner isn't overly keen about returning to North America.

This problem started to intensify two years ago when the Russians opted out of the IIHF's agreement with the NHL. That agreement called for the NHL to pay $200,000 for players it signed from Europe but the Russians, as you might have guessed, thought they could do better.

That agreement is now about to expire and efforts are being made to include the Russians in a new deal. You'd figure they'd be amenable to the idea after losing players like Alexander Ovechkin, Nikolai Zherdev and Malkin without compensation.

But let's just say over the years they haven't been overly predictable in these affairs.

Also, the latest news on Evgeni Malkin as his "two weeks' notice" reaches its end is that there's no news regarding either a contract for Malkin with the Penguins or any legal filings by Magnitogorsk.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Holy Mackinaw, Blue Claws, Eat 'Em Raw

Oskee wee wee! Oskee wa wa!

While hanging around southern New Jersey last week in pursuit of another hobby of mine (counting power stations), I went to a Lakewood BlueClaws game at First Energy Park to watch the BlueClaws play the Delmarva Shorebirds. The BlueClaws are the affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies in the low-A Sally (South Atlantic) League, and their stadium, First Energy Park, is about 70 miles due east of Philadelphia.

I've been to 8 or 9 other minor league parks, which probably isn't a lot, but First Energy Park is definitely the nicest I've ever been to. The Rock Cats in their game program like to describe New Britain Stadium as "a mini-Camden Yards", but First Energy Park makes New Britain Stadium look more like a scrap yard.

First Energy Park (from Uncle Bob's Ballparks)

First Energy Park has the open design that I like, where you can stand on the concourse or be in a concession line and still look out over the ballfield. There's also a grassy berm beyond the outfield fence where you can sit on the grass and watch the game. Besides the picnic areas and play areas for the kids, which most stadiums have now, there's also a band stage set up behind the center field wall, with live music before the games on the weekends. Some cover band was playing the night that I went, but they were smart enough to include at least one Eddie Money cover ("Shakin'") in their set-- plus the drummer's kick drum cover read "Enjoy", so maybe they were big mid-period Descendents/All fans or something, though I kinda doubt it.

Another good thing about First Energy Park is that it's somewhat in the middle of nowhere and has a huge parking lot, which encourages tailgating-- one of my favorite parts of going to a ballgame, but something that none of the stadiums in Connecticut seem to have. In any case, the BlueClaws have had good success with their ballpark, leading the Sally League in attendance every year (I think it's been 6 seasons so far), topping out at 444,607 fans in 2005.

(The Sally League web site, by the way, is a total wreck, though they're proud to point out that it's been recently re-designed. Makes me wonder what it used to look like.)

The best-known former BlueClaws player is Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2005 and this year leads the National League with 47 home runs so far. Howard batted .280 with 19 HRs and 87 RBIs in 135 games for the BlueClaws in 2002, making the Sally League All-Star team. For the game I went to, the BlueClaws gave away bobbleheads of pitcher Robinson Tejeda, another former BlueClaw to reach the majors. I'm sure it was a lot better than their Bob Levy bobblehead.

Also way on the plus side: First Energy Park has an upcoming concert featuring Cheap Trick (fukkin' right!) and Mountain on September 23rd. All that New Britain Stadium gets is some really old hippie guy, Bob Dylan or something. Crap!

Since all this talk about bands may end up leading people on Google searches to this site, thinking it's some kind of place for concert information, I'll take this opportunity to inform everyone that former Brushback 'zine cover models and the fourth or fifth best band in New England, The Queers (above), will be playing at the American Legion in Wallingford, Ct., on October 26th.

On My Own I Am Half the Cast of 'Rock Star' and 'Dodgeball'

Based on the photo I'd used in my Five Weird Things post, these are my celebrity look-alikes:

Jason Newsted, "Rock Star: Supernova"
Michael Vartan, "Alias"
Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller, "Dodgeball" and at least one crummy movie each with Jennifer Aniston
J.D. Fortune, "Rock Star: INXS"

I'm guessing that there aren't any hockey players in their picture database, otherwise Alexei "Festrunk" Morozov would've probably been on my list, too.

"After all, there is no other pair of brothers who cruise and swing so successfully! We are two wild and crazy guys!" (Not talking about me, of course, but Alexei's distant Czech relatives, Yortuk and Georg).

Go to (don't tell them you're Russian or Czech if at all possible) to see who your own celebrity look-alikes are, and maybe you'll be amused as much as I was.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Malkin: "I didn't lie to anyone"

Evgeni Malkin

Slava Malamud, the U.S.-based correspondent for Sport Express, caught up with Evgeni Malkin in Los Angeles and completed a lengthy story and interview with Evgeni and his agent, J.P. Barry, which appeared in two parts on the Sport Express web site on Monday (Part One - Part Two). Russian Prospects provides the following translation:

Malkin was humbled as he was posing for photographs. Standing in front of the ocean, the palm trees, and an expensive hotel seemed to be too much for him. He complained: "They will start saying that I just came to rest on the beaches here". There was nothing he could do, though, as Evgeni's agents brought him to luxurious Santa Monica, which is where Pat Brisson's office (one of Malkin's agents) is located. It was also easy to organize a few practice skates with some NHL players who have taken a liking to the City of Angels during the summer-- not to mention the fact that the best experts in sports medicine are also located there.

The latter wasn't just written for contrast. On Saturday morning, Evgeni visited a doctor. The injury turned out not to be too serious, as it was just a slight muscle pull. Malkin was told to rest and apply ice to the injured area-- except there is no time for rest for Malkin right now. Malkin gave the big interview to Sport-Express right after his appearance on the TSN channel, and more meetings with journalists were scheduled for later in the evening. It may be for different reasons, but both Russia and North America are craving to find out the story of the evader.

Our conversation took place at a hotel on the shore of the Pacific Ocean under the wondering looks from the locals who just couldn’t figure out why there is so much fuss about this young man who is the reason for all the lights and cameras in the hotel and because of whom, the best spot in the restaurant with the view on the ocean has been blocked off. Evgeni was ready to talk for as much as required. "For me, the most important thing is to explain what happened to the people in Russia," he said. "Some people probably support me while others badmouth me, but either way the worst thing for me is to hide and stay silent".

Malkin didn't do either. He told the story behind the signing of the dreadful contract with Metallurg in full detail. By my personal impressions, Evgeni answered all the questions with full honesty, although he didn't handle some of them well. The questions were harsh as the Sport-Express correspondent tried to play the role of a detective, but you will be the judge. Who is right? Who is at fault? Is anyone right in this at all? What would your actions have been if you were in Malkin's situation? How about in Gennadi Velichkin, Metallurg’s GM's position? What are the roots of the problem and how could all this have been avoided?

Everyone will have his or her own answers to these questions but now let's give a word to Evgeni Malkin.

Let's go back to the beginning of this story. As far as I know, at the end of last season you gave a two-week notice to have your contract annulled, which signaled your intensions to leave for Pittsburgh. How did the team management react back then?
Malkin: I didn’t give that notice to Velichkin personally, but instead we faxed it, and two days later he called me to his office and was very upset. He said: "That's not the way to behave and don’t you ever do it again", after which he threw my letter in the garbage right in front of my eyes.

How did you react?
Malkin: I didn't even know what to do. I didn’t want to start a conflict with Velichkin and didn’t see any kind of solution at all.

So you didn't react at all?
Malkin: Of course I reacted. I said: "I hope we find some kind of compromise and that everything will turn out well".

How did Velichkin explain his displeasure? You were saying that Metallurg promised to let you go to the NHL at the end of the '05-'06 season.
Malkin: Yes, there were promises that they wouldn't try to convince me to stay, and they said only that they will leave a chance to negotiate, meaning they would offer me some kind of contract so that I could decide what I want to do next on my own. I definitely didn't expect any persuasions.

How did the events unfold on the day when you signed the new contract with Metallurg?
Malkin: It turned out that Viktor Filippovich Rashnikov (Magnitogorsk's billionare owner) invited us to his place at Bannoe, a lake near the city and the negotiations took place there. This happened on August 9th at 9pm (editor’s note: Evgeni mentioned that Metallurg announced the signing of the new contract on the 7th).

We, including my parents, all sat at the table and the negotiations turned out to be rather lengthy-- about an hour and a half, after which the parents and I decided to tell Viktor Filippovich that I won’t be signing the contract. In other words, we repeated that I still want to go to the NHL, that it is my dream and that this is what I want to do. We then all got up and went outside on the street, Viktor Filippovich said good-bye and left.

The negotiations resumed again, but this time they were outside on the street and with just Velichkin alone. At this point, he was starting to raise his voice and began acting totally differently. We spoke outside for about an hour.

What happened next?
Malkin:He then said that he will go to our home with us, because there was a contract there, and we would sign it anyway-- after which we went home and continued negotiating until half past two in the morning.

Who was at these negotiations?
Malkin: My parents, Velichkin, his assistant Kuprianov and my agent Ushakov... Basically I ended up signing the contract.

So, you declined Rashnikov...
Malkin: Please, don’t write "declined Rashnikov".

Fair enough-- you said "no" during the negotiations with Rashnikov, while Velichkin managed to convince you. What were his arguments?
Malkin: He had many different ones. He said that we haven’t signed the transfer agreement with the NHL, that it would be inhumane of me to hand my two week notice in now and that if I stay, Tretiak would be able to sign the agreement with the NHL on better terms. These arguments were stressed the most.

It would be interesting to find out how confident you were that you won't be signing the contract. After all, you called Barry (representative of the CAA Hockey agency firm) prior to the negotiations. What did you talk to him about?
Malkin: He said that if I really want to play in the NHL, that I have to tell about it to Metallurg and to hang on and not sign the contract.

How did you respond?
Malkin: I said that I want to go to the NHL and that I don't want to sign the contract and will try and withstand this pressure.

Was there an attempt from you to agree with Metallurg that you won’t sign the contract, but will try and help them get compensation for you?
Malkin: I would've been happy to, but I knew for a fact that Velichkin wants $2 million for me and would never agree to anything else. He told me himself, so it was pointless in negotiating as the NHL would never agree to this and Velichkin wanted nothing less.

Let's go back to the negotiations at your home. It's not hard to calculate that they lasted about three hours, right?
Malkin: Yeah, we arrived home at around twelve. The negotiations were as follows... Velichkin came up to my mother and began pressuring her: "Convince your son that he has to sign the contract for the sake of the national team, we are paying him good money", etc. All this time, I was trying to say something but nobody was listening to me: "You will play in the Superleague and that’s that". From what I could see, they weren’t interested in my opinion at all.

This kind of treatment really hurt me. I even talked about leaving for NHL last year and promised that I would do so to Pittsburgh, and Metallurg knew about it-- so I think I stayed true to my words, while I guess somebody didn't understand something in Magnitogorsk.

So the pressure came down to non-stop repetition of the same arguments over and over as well as pressuring your parents, right?
Malkin: I kept saying "no" to all the arguments, and so did my mother, while father was leaning towards their opinion saying: "Maybe you will stay?" I continued saying "no" though.

In the end it turned into a "yes" however. How did that happen?
Malkin: We ended up saying: "Let's get back to this tomorrow. Give us some time to think and maybe tomorrow we will sign". Velichkin responded: "No, you have to do it now". My mother disagreed, saying that it’s too late now, to which Velichkin told 'her: "Are you kicking me out of the house?" "Of course not", said mother, at which point I understood that there is no point trying to explain anything because sooner or later he would've forced me to sign the contract.

Malkin (in white) against Ak Bars

Evgeni, excuse me, but it's still hard to understand what was going through your head at the time. You clearly want to go to Pittsburgh, and you knew full well that with this signature you are declining your own wish-- or at least are complicating the situation. Yet, you signed the contract, and it sounds like the only reason you did so is because you got fed up with Velichkin?
Malkin: I didn’t get fed up. I signed because I wanted to stop this pressure and didn’t want it to continue every day. I had to practice and prepare for the season instead of endlessly arguing.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just say: "I don’t want to, end of discussion" and leave the room?
Malkin: Everything was fine when we were at Rashnikov's place. We came out, discussed everything for about ten minutes, came back and announced our decision. Rashnikov said it like this: "This problem has to be solved now and your decision today will be your final one". So we made the decision, apologized, thanked for everything, but said that we want to leave.

While Viktor Filippovich understood everything though, Velichkin just doesn’t know the meaning of the word "no".

You still haven’t refuted my assumption that the only reason you signed the contract for is so that Velichkin would leave you alone. Is this true or not?
Malkin: I don’t know how to explain it. It's just that it was very tough for me and I didn't know how long this would continue. From the conversation I could see that they won’t let me go so easily. Even when there was talk that they need to receive compensation for me, I offered: "Lets solve this matter on good terms"’ and they replied: "It won’t work out well on good terms. Either they will pay us two million or you will stay here. Otherwise there will be lawsuits but we will win in court and then you’ll end up nowhere".

That night their pressure was even more intense. I saw how they tried to influence my parents, and was worried about how they will talk with them if this goes on. Basically it was clear to me that they are ready to continue this for a very long time.

Okay, you are signing the contract at three in the morning to end this argument that you got tired of and Velichkin leaves. What happens right after this? What were you thinking about after he left?
Malkin: I was thinking that I will still definitely leave and felt insulted. When they called me the next morning, I didn’t even pick up the phone because I was tired of talking to them and didn’t want to do it anymore. They understood everything but made it seem like all is well.

So you got upset and decided that you will still leave as revenge.
Malkin: I don’t want to say "revenge".

Okay, let’s rephrase it. For example: "You treat me like this? Then I will do this".
Malkin: No, let’s not. I think everyone will understand me. It's my decision that I made but I didn't know how else I could have acted. I'm sure the guys will support me.

The day after you signed the contract, Sport-Express' headline was "Why is Malkin Silent and Not Celebrating?" So there was a suspicion that something is wrong and your refusal to give any interviews was only strengthening those opinions. Why didn’t you talk to the media?
Malkin: I just didn't want to lie to the people. There would’ve definitely been questions about the upcoming season and why I chose the Super League. I would've had to answer: "Yes, everything is great, I'm staying in Magnitogorsk and will spend the season here", while I knew that I will leave anyway.

You knew it at the moment when putting your signature on the contract?
Malkin: Yes.

But if you knew all this, why didn't you come to Velichkin on the next day and tell him that he treated you unfairly and hand him your two week notice?
Malkin: I saw what he did with my first two week notice. He just threw out and said: "Papers like this don’t exist for me"’. I don't think I could even do it... I don’t know... It's hard for me to explain, but it was very tough for me to go to him with documents.

Evgeni, what does this all mean? Your explanations are hard to understand. Are you afraid of this man? Is it some kind of fear that you didn't know you had?
Malkin: I'm not afraid. It's just that during the last three years, this club-- and Velichkin in particular-- did so much for me and my family. When problems arose, and there have been many of them, he always helped and I owe a lot to him.

Understood: it was hard for you to overcome your sense of responsibility, not fear. Coming out and saying "no" instead of running away behind Velichkin's back would've been a much more honourable thing to do though, don't you think?
Malkin: Of course it's easy to sit here now, look at everything from a different perspective and re-think everything. At that time though...yes everything could've turned out much better...

I understand that you can't take back what you did already, but Velichkin didn't go anywhere and neither did Rashnikov or the Metallurg fans. They would all probably like to know if you are sorry about what happened.
Malkin: Of course I’m sorry, but what can I say...

Do you believe that you could've acted differently in this situation?
Malkin: Of course I do, but I want to repeat that Gennadi Ivanovich's behaviour was extremely inappropriate.

Evgeni, personally, I don’t understand what was so hard for you-- although I'm not one to tell you what kind of fans Metallurg has and what feelings they have towards you. Many of them probably feel betrayed without even thinking rationally about any details.
Malkin: I understand that and really hope that as time goes by, they will understand that I didn't want to upset them.

But why wait for time to go by? Imagine that you are talking with a regular Metallurg fan right now. Explain why he shouldn't be upset.
Malkin: You see, last year I told everyone that I will leave for Pittsburgh and that this will be my last season. After the playoffs, I also said the same thing and that it is my dream that I want to bring to reality. The fans must've read about it and know what I wanted all this time. This has nothing to do with Magnitogorsk. I will always have the warmest feelings towards Metallurg and will always be proud of the fact that I grew up at a team like this. I really hope that they will understand and forgive me when everything falls in its place. I didn't lie to anyone and always said that I want to play in the NHL this year and the guys understand everything and support me.

Malkin in Los Angeles (Slava Malamud/Sport Express photo)

Have you talked to any Metallurg players?
Malkin: I talked with Evgeni Varlamov. Atyushov called and so did Pestunov. They all support me and say that I should do what I think is right.

Evgeni, shortly before all this happened, you switched agents for the second time in three months and returned to Barry and Brisson...
Malkin: Let's not talk about this. No comment.

Fair enough, but at the time of the contract signing, your passport was still held by your former agent Sergei Isakov. Were you able to get it back without any complications?
Malkin: Isakov did have the passport at first, because he was the one who got my Canadian visa, but then he gave it to Velichkin.

And when was that?
Malkin: Right when all this was going on, so around the 8th or 9th of August. I think Velichkin got my passport right after I signed the contract.

Question for JP Barry: How did the events unfold from your point of view? For example, what happened the day after Evgeni signed the contract?
JP Barry: I advised Evgeni to show willpower and not to sign the contract. Evgeni, from his point of view, really wanted to meet with Velichkin so that he could explain him everything eye to eye. He was probably naïve enough to think that from the 10th or 15th time, Metallurg would understand that they won't be able to hold him back.

Everything ended up with him signing the contract. He called me and explained the situation during which everything happened. I was obviously unhappy when I found out what kind of pressure was applied to get the contract signed and of course I wasn't in position to criticize what had happened. It’s pointless anyway. What's done is done.

Who came up with the idea to annul the contract?
JP Barry: I told Evgeni, "If you want to go to Pittsburgh, you will have to file a two-week notice to annul the contract. As a lawyer, I don’t believe it's valid, but it should still be done just in case".

Why did you consider it to be invalid?
JP Barry: According to American laws, a person isn't obliged to follow the terms of a contract that they were forced to sign with the use of psychological pressure. "Psychological pressure" can be interpreted in many ways, but in this situation, considering the people that Evgeni dealt with, I think the use of pressure is evident. In this situation, it would still be the right thing to do to declare the intensions to annul the agreement.

How and why did the idea to do this outside of Russia come about?
JP Barry: We decided that we shouldn't let this story repeat itself endlessly, so it would be a better idea to annul the contract after leaving the team first. Evgeni said that it would be best to do it in Finland, because his passport will be returned for this trip. I then contacted the American embassy in Helsinki and started the visa process for Evgeni.

You took care of the apartment too, didn’t you?
JP Barry: Yes, we rented an apartment and got a hold of some Finnish assistants who organized everything. When Evgeni passed the customs control (at the airport), he saw us right away and approached us.

Did Velichkin see this?
JP Barry: I doubt it. The team was just going through the passport control and was picking up its luggage. These situations are always chaotic and it'’s hard to look after everyone. Evgeni came up to us and we took him aside, went down the escalators and came out to the van that we had parked before which took us to the apartment.

It’s like some kind of James Bond...
JP Barry: Put it this way: our Finnish friends operated extremely effectively.

How tough was it to get the American visa?
JP Barry: This process is always difficult. We filled out all the forms, double checked everything, went to the interview at the embassy and provided all the necessary information that was requested by the embassy. Everything took about two days. We then sat and waited for a phone call to let us know that the visa is ready. We got the phone call on the third day.

Two days is an unbelievably short time to receive an American visa.
JP Barry: Most of the work was done ahead of time. All that was left to do was go through the interview in Helsinki.

Have you talked to Gennadi Ushakov, your fellow agent in Russia?
JP Barry: We last talked with Gennadi about a week ago.

Was he aware of your plans?
JP Barry: No, we didn't drag him into this. He lives and works in Russia and the atmosphere there is tough for an agent to do his work. We didn't want to complicate his life, and as soon as Evgeni expressed his will, I decided that I will be able to do everything by myself.

It's known that this year, during the negotiations between the NHL and the Russian Hockey Federation, Metallurg was offered a million dollars for Malkin. What do you know about this?
JP Barry: I would like to be the first to say that we as agents did not take part in these negotiations. Our job is the players so we find out these things from other people. But the situation was basically that without a transfer agreement, the NHL could make a special offer for any player. I heard talks about exceptions for certain players but don't know exactly whether Malkin’s name was brought up or if it was about the first five draft picks.

In this situation, the information is as follows. The NHL is required to pay compensation for every European player who went overseas but ended up in the minors. Bettman offered to add up the compensations for all the Russian minor leaguers and add that to the standard $200,000 compensation to round it up to a million and give it to Metallurg for Malkin.
JP Barry: We know of many possible solutions including this one. This idea is one of the most creative ones and is by the way legal just like the others. I can say with confidence that this solution was very possible.

Do you know why Velichkin rejected it?
JP Barry: We found out from different sources that there are three teams in Russia that continuously reject all NHL offers. They are Yaroslavl, Kazan and Magnitogorsk. As far as I know, they weren't happy with the amounts. In other words, one million dollars was simply not enough.

A lawsuit is most likely awaiting you now and it seems that you are prepared for it. Could you explain how exactly you are planning to present your arguments in court?
JP Barry: At first we have to work out a strategy. In situations with contract disputes, the employee's side often has to react to the employer's actions so it would be nice to first see what Metallurg is planning to do. Are they, for example, planning to prove that in this situation the Russian labour laws do not apply? We, by the way, are sure that they do apply.

Do you believe that this story will somehow affect the signing of the transfer agreement with the RHF and if so, then how?
JP Barry: I hope that it will now be clear that on one hand, you can’t keep young players from realizing their dreams and on the other, the NHL must pay a fair compensation. I really hope that both sides will find some kind of compromise. Nobody in the NHL believes that the players should come over for free, it’s just that there is no agreement on the specifics of the payouts. Should there be more money paid for stars and less for players taken in the latter rounds, for example? Today's system balances everyone out and what you where you are being cut short in star players, you make up with the others. Not everyone likes this.

Evgeni, it's been almost two weeks from the moment when you signed the contract with Metallurg. You spent some time in Finland and a few days in the States. How do you currently feel, and what's on your mind?
Malkin: I've settled down now. I read Bykov's and Tretiak's interviews in your newspaper and understood that these people don't blame me, so my nerves have calmed down. I just began training and my agents are helping me get used to this place. Basically, everything is fine.

That's about nerves, but what about emotions? Do things such as happiness, disappointment or guilt exist?
Malkin: I definitely don't feel any happiness or guilt, but I feel slightly disappointed that things didn't turn out the best way. As they say though, everything that's done is for the best.

Do you believe that a return to the national team is possible? Perhaps you could take this opportunity to say something to Vyacheslav Bykov?
Malkin: If they call me up, I will gladly come. I'm waiting for this call, especially because this World Championship will be in Moscow and we have a great chance of winning it. I will do everything in my power to make it happen.

Aside from a brilliant rookie season with Pittsburgh and a hundred goals, what would be the best ending to this story?
Malkin: For Pittsburgh to understand the situation and pay a fair compensation to Metallurg. I don’t know what would be a fair amount, but I hope they will agree on something. And of course the other thing would be for the fans to forgive and understand me.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bill Cowher Replaced With Pee-Wee Herman

These are the jerseys that the Milwaukee Admirals wore last season:

These are the jerseys that the Milwaukee Admirals will wear this season:

Word has it that Admirals players are being encouraged by management this season to respond to the inevitable heckling in the following manner:

"I know you are, but what am I?"
"Why don't you make me?" "Because I don't make monkeys, I train them."

Thus, we've made our segue into the next segment, called "The Ten Best Things About Being An Islanders Fan" (from The Hockey News):

10. Nine different jerseys in your closet and only three of them cause people to chuckle.
9. You avoid breathing in dangerous toxins by holding your breath as trade deadline approaches.
8. Spring and summers off.
7. The game will always be on channel 71…unless the Rangers are on, in which case it will be on channel 55…unless the Devils are on, in which case it will be on channel 135…unless the winter paint ball games are on, in which case it will be on channel 379 or is it it’s... hey, The Simpsons are on, cool.
6. An owner eager to prove Mike Milbury's not the worst GM in sports history. Tell the bus driver to start brushing up on the CBA.
5. The lack of any minor league, NCAA or field hockey teams on Long Island allows you to focus on Isles.
4. Watching Zdeno Chara and Jason Spezza dominate.
3. Youngsters get free lessons from Princess Alexis of Russia on how to not win face-offs, finish plays or stand up for teammates.
2. Paying the New York Rangers (Cablevision) $1200 per year to be allowed to watch Islander games. (Tell the people of Montreal they have to pay the Maple Leafs $1200 to see Montreal games and you would have a civil war.)
1. Yashin will eventually go away...right?

For more on the Islanders' own crappy jerseys, or at least those of their farm club the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, read Potvin's Socks er, Sound Tigers Switch Jerseys In Order To Save On Socks.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I Left My Wallet In El Segundo

Evgeni Malkin skating at the Los Angeles Kings' practice facility in El Segundo, CA. I haven't decided yet if the jersey he's wearing is bad-ass, or a little too Appetite for Destruction-looking, or what.

Jakub Petruzalek Signs With Wolf Pack

Jakub Petruzalek (Chris Rutsch photo)

One of the final pieces to the Hartford Wolf Pack's forward puzzle fell into place today as 2004 draftee Jakub Petruzalek, as was rumored since early July, signed an AHL deal with the Wolf Pack. The Pack also signed d-man Corey Potter, a 2003 draftee, as well as goalie Alex Westlund.

From Bruce Berlet of the Hartford Courant:

Former Yale goalie Alex Westlund, defenseman Corey Potter, and forwards Jakub Petruzalek and Mike Ouellette have agreed to terms on AHL contracts with the Wolf Pack.

Petruzalek, 21, was the Rangers' ninth-round pick in 2004 and joined the Pack on an amateur tryout contract in May after splitting last season between Litvinov in his native Czech Republic and Barrie of the OHL.

Westlund, 30, played at Yale in 1995-99 and holds the school's career record for wins. A seven-year pro, Westlund has played in six AHL games, had three stints in Russia, including last season, and played the 2004-05 season with the Pack's ECHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers.

Potter, 22, the Rangers' fourth-round pick in 2003, finished his Michigan State career in April with eight goals and 36 assists in 150 games and also played with the U.S. junior national team.

Berlet's story goes on to add that defenseman Thomas Pöck, an AHL All-Star last season, has yet to sign his qualifying offer from the Rangers and could go over to Europe to play.

(UPDATE 8/25/06 - The Rangers have officially announced Pöck's re-signing, although it had been leaked out on a couple of message boards a day earlier.)

Jakub Petruzalek's scouting profile on Hockey's Future:

A late-round gamble, but he adds a legitimate scorer with loads of skill to the system. Unfortunately, his downside matches his upside.

Petruzalek impresses with his swift skating skills. He displays a fluid stride and above-average agility. He accelerates well, but could use more balance. His soft hands contribute to the offensive talent, a smooth, poised puckhandler who sees the ice quite well. He unleashes a quick wrist shot with a fast release, but could work on the hardness of his slap shot. A creative passer, Petruzalek likes the finesse style of play, when he can make fast smart passes to his linemates.

On the downside, he can get outmuscled by the bigger opponents. Petruzalek isn't a total liability when it comes down to fulfilling his defensive duties, but he has to further improve on his defensive awareness and could block the opposing passing lanes more effectively.

Petruzalek has the upside of a second line scoring forward.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Rock Cats' Perkins Takes No-Hitter Into Seventh

Glen Perkins

Showing that you never really know what might happen at the ballpark, today's seemingly worthless match-up between the next-to-last New Britain Rock Cats and the tedious Connecticut Defenders, featuring two starting pitchers with a combined record of 5-23, turned out to be a heck of a 1-0 ballgame.

Perkins, who made the Eastern League All-Star team this season despite his subpar won-loss record, struck out 10 in seven shutout innings while giving up only one hit, a single to lead off the seventh inning. The Rock Cats scored their only run in the bottom of the sixth, on a line-drive RBI single by Denard Span.

The Defenders have now been held scoreless for 29 straight innings.

Tonight was another bobblehead giveaway, supposedly of everyone's favorite guy to hate, A.J. Pierzynski (I didn't get a bobblehead, so I'm not really sure). Oddly enough, Pierzynski and Doug Mientkiewicz were two of my favorite players while they were in New Britain; shows what I know, I guess.

Again, despite setting all kinds of team attendance records every season (10th among all Double-A teams nationwide last season), the Rock Cats saw fit to stick it to their fans and raise the parking fee to $5 this year-- and this for a stadium that has practically no room for parking in the first place.

As a side note, former Rock Cats reliever Pat Neshek just became the #1 search engine query bringing people to this web site, with nearly 1000 hits topping even "Ovechkin" and "Malkin". That seems a good enough reason for me to drop all three of those names again.

Chris Holt Gets Traded Off Fantasy Island

So long, Mr. Holt!

In some sort of weird Internet black hole that I found out about only because I was linked to it, Wolf Pack goalie Chris Holt is now a member of the Nashville Predators:

The Rangers have announced the signing of Maxim Kondratiev for 4 years at $870,000. However, the Rangers are not intending to keep him, since they believe that he is not developing quickly enough, and they already have some good defensive prospects. Instead, they are trading him to the Nashville Predators.

Nashville gets: Maxim Kondratiev (D) and Chris Holt (G)
Rangers get: Mike Morrison (G), Andrew Hutchinson (D)

This is good for the New York Rangers, needing for the moment a better 3rd-string goalie and getting the already established Mike Morrison in return for Chris Holt. Chris Holt is no longer a part of their plans, with the emergence of prospect Al Montoya in the farm team... Hutchinson will help a little to reinforce the weak Rangers defense.

At least, that's a close as I can get to figuring out what it says, since it's in French. It's from a message board for a fantasy league with some really messed-up rosters, apparently, but I can't really tell. If it is for a fantasy league, I'm surprised that Chris Holt rates high enough to be included.

Maxim Kondratiev (#31, for Lada) defending himself against
the ill-informed and annoying doubting hordes

Since we're talking about the Nashville Predators and things that I can't figure out-- does someone mind telling me exactly what the hell this is?

Is this supposed to make you feel like buying hockey tickets, or feel as if you've got a pain in your side?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Fetisov: 20 Million Oughta Do It

Slava Fetisov

From David Nowak of The Moscow Times (articles become part of the paid archives after a day or two, unfortunately):

The growing problem of Russian players fleeing the country mid-contract to play for pre-eminent U.S. and Canadian clubs is costing the Russian Super League millions of dollars, hockey officials say.

Yet, for all their complaining, club owners and the Federal Agency for Physical and Sports have done little, if anything, about the key issue: the Labor Code's Article 80, which states that an employee has a right to terminate a contract with two weeks' notice, irrespective of how much time and money has been invested in that employee.

The reason may be that it is difficult to do anything about the notoriously byzantine Labor Code, which is widely despised by business owners.

Henry Rutstein, a Russian labor law specialist at the law firm Linklaters's Moscow office, observed that the Labor Code could be amended to make it more difficult for players to breach their agreements with teams.

So far, American courts have not been amenable to Russian lawsuits seeking compensation for lost players.

Nikolai Zherdev left CSKA Moscow mid-contract in 2005 to join the Columbus Blue Jackets. When CSKA sued in the United States, the judge presiding over the case ruled in the player's favor.

"The National Hockey League does not accept Russian Hockey Federation rules," Federal Sports Agency spokesman Dmitry Tugarin said.

True, hockey federations that sign on to an IIHF collective-bargaining agreement are entitled to $200,000 per player lost to the NHL. But in Evgeni Malkin's case, as in the case of other Russian players, no one will be getting any cash: The Russian Hockey Federation is the only national federation that has refused to sign the agreement. The federation fears giving a tacit nod to NHL poaching, as they see it, of their players.

Tugarin scoffed at the compensation doled out by the NHL. "$200,000 is nothing in comparison to what it costs to develop a talented player," he said, adding that it costs $1 million to $1.5 million to train a Russian Super League star from childhood through adolescence.

Anatoly Kharchuk, Dynamo Moscow's president, confirmed that teams are hemorrhaging rubles. "If you take into account everything spent on players -- development from an early age, coaching, travel, accommodations and food -- that $1.5 million figure is completely accurate," Kharchuk said. Had Malkin grown up in Moscow, he said, it would have cost even more.

Kharchuk said his club had spent roughly $2 million to train Ovechkin, who left Russia last year after having played for Dynamo Moscow for a little more than three years.

"We should have an agreement like they have in football," he said, "where a club names its price for a player when another club is interested in that player. We are losing huge amounts of money."

FIFA, the international football federation, exerts significant power over national leagues around the globe. If a player leaves a club mid-contract without the consent of the club, he or she can be penalized. The IIHF does not have the same authority as FIFA, which can bar players from taking part in the game.

Federal Sports Agency chief Vyacheslav Fetisov, a former NHL great, made it clear he thought the team should pay. What does he think the hockey player is worth? "For a guy like Malkin," Fetisov said at a meeting Thursday with reporters, "$20 million is appropriate."

Not So Fast There, Pilgrim

Russian Hockey Digest: "The fax cannot be accepted"

Metallurg's GM Gennady Velichkin, commenting on the fax Metallurg received from Malkin, says, "My lawyers told me that the copy was not good. Several lines in it are not readable, the whole paper was not written by Malkin 100%, and it seems that the signature might belong to Malkin himself. The lawyers are saying that this document is unacceptable. Even if we might assume that Malkin decided to ask for employment termination, then this has to be done legally correct. According to the law, Evgeni still has to work at least two full weeks-- but he has been absent for 5 days already."

In a separate interview to Zhizn Daily, Gennady Velichkin commented more on the fax: "When I told J.P. Barry that the notice is not readable and and cannot be accepted as a document, Mr. Barry answered, 'Then we will write another one, Mr. Velichkin, and there is nothing you can do about it.'"

"We had preliminary talks with some American lawyers. They will visit Russia shortly, and after that we will leave for the States. I will do everything to battle for the rights of our club and all of Russian hockey. They think they can steal our players, that all the hockey world works for the benefit of the NHL. They steal the future (of our hockey), make big money on our players, but those who trained the players receive nothing. Nothing will stop them until somebody teaches them."

Our sources close to Metallurg organization are telling that Velichkin received an okay from Metallurg owners to use the money allocated for Malkin's contract towards the legal expenses that may arise in case Malkin does not come back shortly.

Gennady Velichkin (Sport Express photo)

Gennady Velichkin again, from

"You don't have to be an expert to recognize that the paper isn't written by Malkin, but by a female using excessively calligraphic handwriting. In addition, judging by the old slavic style of lettering, it looks clearly like it was written by someone who is an emigrant (not a Russian native). But the main thing is that the signature doesn't match. Our team lawyer said that he cannot match this signature with the one that Malkin put on the new August 7th contract, and after our conversation he simply threw the rough forgery into the wastebasket."

I'm guessing that Mr. Velichkin's Calligraphy Handwriting Analysis manual neglects to explain the phrases, "splitting hairs" and "pissing in the wind".

Maxim Kondratiev Signs With Lada

Maxim Kondratiev (Chris Rutsch photo)
Former Hartford Wolf Pack/New York Rangers defenseman Maxim Kondratiev has signed a one-year deal with Lada Togliatti, according to a report in Sport Express.

Kondratiev was originally drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2001, then sent to the Rangers (along with Jarkko Immonen) in the March '04 trade that brought Brian Leetch to Toronto. He was then traded by the Rangers to Anaheim last January for Petr Sykora, now with the Edmonton Oilers.

During the '05-'06 season, Kondratiev appeared in 29 games with the Rangers (notching a goal and two assists), and 4 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack. After being acquired by the Ducks he spent the rest of the season with the Portland Pirates of the AHL. In 37 games with Portland, he notched 4 goals and 13 assists.

Kondratiev returns to Lada in his hometown of Togliatti, which is where he started his pro career in the Russian Super League, playing there for four seasons between 2001 - 2005.

Velichkin: Malkin Writes Like A Girl

Evgeni Malikin, from possibly his last game as a member of Magnitogorsk, Aug. 11 against Krylya Sovetov (Alexandre Fedorov/Sport Express photo)

Yesterday, the latest Evgeni Malkin news was that he had re-submitted his resignation letter to his Russian team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

Today, a story in MosNews has Metallurg GM Gennady Velichkin claiming that the resignation letter is a fake (link through Kukla's Korner):

Metallurg Magnitogorsk general director Gennady Velichkin has called Evgeniy Malkin’s letter of resignation a “crude falsification”.

Velichkin told ITAR-TASS news agency Wednesday that he had received a strange fax. He claims that the document, allegedly Malkin’s resignation letter, was not signed by Malkin. Velichkin says that the letter had been written by a woman, as the author’s handwriting is very legible, but the signature is unclear. Metallurg’s lawyer has not been able to compare Malkin's signature-- which Malkin had put on a contract with the Russian team on the August 7-- with the signature on the so-called letter of resignation, Velichkin said.

Perhaps the letter was forged by Natasha and Boris Badenov?

In other Malkin news, a couple of days ago, Soviet Sport ran an interview with Sergei Isakov, Malkin's former Russian agent (translated by Russian Prospects):

Said Isakov, "I knew of Malkin's plans back on Friday night.

"On Friday night I was sitting in a car with Malkin. He told me that he planned to run away. I spent a half an hour trying to dissuade him from this act. I did this because I believe in ethics. If Malkin signed this unfortunate contract – whether he was made or persuaded, he still did it – then he needs to fulfill its terms – not running away to the NHL, but staying in his home town of Magnitogorsk.

"I got the impression that Malkin wasn't himself. I never seen him like that. After Evgeny left our agency, he became a different person who makes unreasonable decisions and doesn't understand what he is doing. But what is being done by the agency – before it was called IMG – but now? – they are ruining the guy. There will be lawsuits and that will reflect on Malkin's mental state and will interfere with his NHL debut.

"Malkin's decision was very foolish. I believe that he is under some sort of a spell. (He is being manipulated) by his agents. Yes, Pittsburgh wants Malkin to be there, but they're not exerting the pressure. Unlike agents, who want to make their percentages from the player's contract.

"Now it turns out that Malkin was simply stolen. You need to do your job in a civil manner. Sign a deal and go to the side. Or there will be unpleasant games...Where did Malkin run off to? To whom? Does he even know?"

"Gennadi Ushakov (Malkin's current Russian agent) and his partner, Dmitri Goryachkin, were in Moscow. On Friday night I saw them in one of the restaurants. Malkin was with them. I think they were discussing the details of his departure. By the way, Velichkin already called Ushakov and started to scream at him. In return, Ushakov responded: 'I would have preferred if Malkin stayed – I would have earned more money. I don't know anything about this!'.

"Metallurg gave Malkin a very comfortable contract. No one in Russia makes that kind of money, with the exception of Alexei Morozov in Ak Bars. But why sign another contract? Now everyone has a headache, and I don't know what will happen with Malkin."

UPDATE 8/17/06 5:08pm - TSN is reporting that Malkin is in Los Angeles, and that J.P. Barry was the unknown man who met Malkin at the airport in Helsinki (credit James Mirtle for the pointer).

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Sideshow Of Made-Up Stuff

At the risk of becoming All Malkin, All Of The Time, some of today's stories are just too good to pass up. What was once more of an actual, gripping news event has almost overnight disintegrated into a Circus of Made-Up Stuff, and if you're into this kind of entertainment, you probably couldn't be happier.

A report in Sport Express has Malkin in Toronto-- where his North American representation, JP Barry, has an office-- with Alexander Ovechkin's agent, Don Meehan, confirming that Ovechkin is now in Toronto himself, "although the two have never met." Well, that's rude, goddamnit-- someone get around to doing the introductions!

Russian Hockey Digest has a tersely-worded article saying that Malkin has phoned his family to tell them he is safe, with mom saying to son, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do!" She also told him stay away, you'll never know what you'll catch.

In an interview with Soviet Sport, Gennady Velichkin sounds really pissed, saying, "Perhaps it is not clear to you that Evgeni flew to America at the invitation of people from overseas? The inpudence of the Americans knows no bounds. This is the crime of the century! They don't care that Malkin belongs in Russia. He is very much the pride of our team, our city, and the entire country. But the Americans contemptuously stole our player.

"We must condemn not only Pittsburgh, but also the entire NHL for its great arrogance. The NHL must be censured by the entire world of sport."

By contrast, the NHL's Bill Daly sounds almost conciliatory in his own interview in Sport Express, saying, "It is necessary that we sit down and discuss this problem, to prevent the same thing from happening again. It's even possible in this case to raise the question of (retroactive) compensation for those Russian players who have left for the NHL in the past, as well as present."

Good one, Bill-- you've got a real knee-slapper, there...

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wraps up all of today's news in one tidy bundle, in an excellent article written by Chuck Finder-- and who better to write about a missing person than Chuck Finder, anyway? Except for maybe Fargo North, Decoder.

To finish things off on an "up" note: thanks to a tip on one of the Hockey's Future message boards, I found this little item from the funny folks at

Also by way of the HF boards, and the fan forum of the team web site as well, comes this set of images from

If Malkin ever gets found, I think the Pro Gamer guys are gonna be in line for one of those Nobel Peace Prizes, or the Pulitzer Prize, or something like that..

Malkin: What Happens Next?

It's been more than two days since Evgeni Malkin virtually disappeared from a Helsinki airport, and there has yet to be any official word on where he is, other than wild conjecture (he's still in Finland, he's stashed in Toronto). The Pittsburgh papers has been treading very lightly with this story, with the Post-Gazette and the Tribune-Review waiting out the weekend before even passing along a wire report, and the Pittsburgh Penguins team has likewise refused to comment.

Slava Malamud of Sport Express has been getting some Stateside ink today with his theory, saying, "I think he's in the process of getting an America visa, or he's already here (in the U.S.)," while adding, "He could be the last Russian defector."

Ingmar, to his ever-lovin' credit, thinks the "defector" talk is nonsense:

"Saying that Malkin has 'defected' from Russia is like saying that Chris Pronger 'defected' from Edmonton, taking with him his passport and personal belongings and heading to Mexico. Last I checked, Russia was still called Russia, and not the CCCP. Players do not defect from Russia anymore. There's no hiding in the back of lorries at borderstations, or running through rainsoaked forests with KGB agents in trenchcoats chasing you. Today you're free to travel the world on shitty airlines with shitty food and shitty services just like the rest of us."

Russian Hockey Digest thinks there could be a whopper of a battle ahead, and also thinks that Metallurg has the resources to make it a fair fight:

Evgeni Malkin disappeared... his North American agents say they believe he is safe, which is good. The bad news is that there appears no easy road for Malkin ahead as he became an object of struggle of two powers.

There is the NHL on one side, a business organization that tries to get the best product it can for the least possible price, and sell it for much more. Then there is Metallurg Magnitogorsk , a hockey club from Urals in Russia, the GM of which took a burden to have a precedent of receiving a market value for a player's transfer from Europe to the NHL. Mr. Velichkin has become somewhat a local leader of all GM's of Russian clubs, and there is one big reason for that; (owner) Viktor Rashnikov backs him up. According to Forbes magazine, Viktor Rashnikov has a net worth of $3.6 billion. Rashnikov is also a big hockey fan, and Metallurg's success on the Russian hockey scene is not without his help.

So imagine this: Malkin in the same room with Mr. Rashnikov, a person who could buy a dozen NHL clubs, if not the whole NHL himself. Evgeni just could not say no to his $3.6 million offer simply out of respect, but later he must have realized that he still wants to play in the NHL.

One thing is for sure-- Metallurg will not back out of it, as Mr. Velichkin has an agenda to establish: a precedent of receiving a market value sum for a Russian player.

Sergei Isakov, Malkin's Russian agent until about a week ago, thinks that IMG's Gennadi Ushakov, Malkin's current agent, knows where he is. In fact, Isakov says that Malkin personally told Ushakov that he planned to flee. In an interview with Soviet Sport that Russian Prospects translated, Ushakov says this is nonsense:

I did not know that Malkin would disappear in Finland, and we were not preparing for this act. Why do it? Why first sign a contract with Metallurg and then a week later break it?

If Malkin left for Pittsburgh, I would not get a dime. This is because I do not have any percentage interest from the agreement, and am only earning a wage from the agency. Everyone knows this. That is why I was interested that Malkin would continue his career with Metallurg.

Do you have an idea of where Malkin is right now?

When was the last time you saw him?
Friday evening – Metallurg was flying out to Finland on Saturday morning. After the game against the Soviet Wings, we dined at a Moscow restaurant. We celebrated the restaurant's eighth anniversary. There were even songs played in Evgeni's honor....everything was very nice.

Did Evgeny tell you about his wish to flee?
We didn't even discuss this subject. Additionally, if a person wants to flee, he is not going to divulge his plans.

Have you been in touch with Gennady Velichkin since Malkin's disappearance?
Many times. Just this Saturday we spoke five or six times on the phone. I think that Velichkin understands that I had nothing to do with this.

Ushakov also said that, were Metallurg to bring their case to trial, his agency (IMG) would likely have to stand on the side of the NHL and the Pittsburgh Penguins on behalf of Malkin.

It has also been said that, in the United States, any contract that can be proven to have been signed under duress (as Malkin's one-year deal with Metallurg might've been) would be considered invalid.

Vyacheslav Bykov

In an interview with Sport Express, Vyacheslav Bykov, the newly-appointed head coach of the Russian National Team, says that Malkin would still be welcome to play for Team Russia (translation by Sport Express):

"There is no official version from Metallurg Magnitogorsk yet. But, if Malkin’s departure is a fact, it means the player had a reason for that. I think you can’t blame him until you know what exactly happened when he was signing the contract. Maybe he changed his mind and asked the club to let him go, or maybe now he is having his rest, doing his fishing somewhere. Malkin has to explain everything himself. We have to listen what the player says. I think he’ll speak soon.

"I don’t want to criticize anybody-– the same happened to Mogilny and (Sergei) Fedorov. Both were made villains first, and later became heroes.

"There is only one thing I can’t understand in all this story with Malkin: we live in a free and democratic country and anybody could leave it at any moment.

"If he says he doesn’t want to play for his country, then he’ll not be invited. But if he has the problems only with his club, he’ll play for the national team. The clubs follow their own policy, but the results of the national team are also important.

"Anyway, from the sporting point of view he had a great season in Russia, and had he moved to the NHL nobody would blame him."

UPDATE 8/15/06 9:49am - Back in action, James Mirtle chimes in with some interesting thoughts.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Malkin: The Day After

Gennady Velichkin, Metallurg GM, in Soviet Sport:
"After we had all passed through (airport security), Malkin disappeared. He does not answer his phone. The players saw Evgeni change the SIM card in his cell phone. One of the players recalls that Malkin was joined by an unknown person, and they left together.

"Why does everyone only mention pressure coming from the side of the team? We never talked face-to-face with Malkin about a new contract. Never! All of the negotiations were conducted exclusively in the presence of his mom, dad, and his agent. No handcuffs were put on anyone, and the Iron Curtain did not begin to fall on anyone."

Gennady Velichkin in Reuters:
"(In the U.S.) they all like to talk about democracy, the American way and then they shamelessly steal our best players. This is pure sports terrorism. Don't forget, Malkin is a young kid, he is still very naive and it was easy for them to get into his head all that stuff about the American dream and how great the NHL is.

"The Pittsburgh owners are trying hard to sell the club, and the price would be totally different if they had Malkin. But you can't just take our best players and expect to get away with it. We've put so much effort, resources and money into Malkin's development as a player. He was our diamond, our prize possession. He had a contract with us, we were building the whole team around him and now he is gone."

Gennadi Ushakov, Malkin's current Russian agent, in Sport Express:
"I found out when Gennady Velichkin rang me from Finland. I attempted to call Evgeni, but he did not answer his phone.

"He gave no hints, not even a similar thought, that he would do this. Otherwise, why sign a new contract with Magnitogorsk?

"I hope within the next few days that Evgeni will make contact with me. It doesn't seem worthwhile to call Pittsburgh. Even I do not know where to search for Malkin."

Sergei Isakov, Malkin's former Russian agent, in Sport Express:
"Early Saturday morning, around one o'clock, it was related to me that Malkin had told Dimitry Goryachkin (head of International Management Group in Russia) and Gennadi Ushakov, 'When I arrive in Finland tomorrow, I will run away.'

"Ushakov says that he didn't know, because it's convenient, but he was a direct participant in Malkin's flight. Ushakov will make excuses and claim otherwise, but we are all clear-headed people, and we can hardly imagine that Ushakov, being Malkin's agent, knew nothing of the flight.

"I had said that it wasn't necessary for Malkin to sign a new contract with Magnitogorsk, and then afterwards it was a big mistake. Ushakov's position in this situation is incomprehesible to me. Why didn't he protect his player when Metallurg's management began to pressure him? Why make your client sign a contract when he did not want to play in Magnitogorsk? I don't understand this."

Rene Fasel, head of the IIHF, in Sport Express:
"Over the last year, we had an understanding with the NHL about the mutual respect for contracts. By the way, the Russian Hockey Federation showed they could follow their own example, when they forbid Yashin to play in Russia when he had an acting contract with an NHL club.

"Of course, the judges already know of the loopholes in the Russian labor laws, so now it isn't possible to forbid a player to leave for another country."

Yevgeny Zimin, coach, in Sport Express:
"It shouldn't be suprising that Malkin ran out. A lot of Russia's problems with its players are because the clubs' leaders sign young players to contracts for 5 and 6 years, thus enslaving the player. This, at its core, is improper; general practice shows that contracts should not be for more than 3 or 4 years.

"However, Malkin did not conduct this in a very manly manner. He has acted dishonorably, by bringing judicial headaches upon our Federation and for the Magnitogorsk club."

Pavel Bure, in Sport Express:
"I understand the desire of Evgeni Malkin to play in the strongest hockey league in the world, but I am very astonished by his actions. This doesn't make sense, because we live in a democratic country, where it is possible to simply go where you want, and also because he didn't have to sign the contract."

Vyacheslav Bykov, head coach of Team Russia, in Sport Express:
"Malkin's actions are incomprehensible to me. We live now in a free and democratic state, where each of us at any moment can simply leave. However, Malkin's agent said that, as he was signing the agreement, the look in Malkin's eyes was one of melancholy. This seemed strange, and from this I drew some conclusions."

Natalie, Evgeni Malkin's mom, in Komsomolskaya Pravda:
"Everything we know, we learned from the news. We've tried to call our son, but he doesn't answer his phone.

"The money isn't the issue. Simply, he very much wanted to play in the NHL. But the management of Metallurg played on his feelings of patriotism. He couldn't refuse. But afterwards, he told me, 'Mom, they are waiting for me (in Pittsburgh), and I already gave my promise to them!'

Vladimir (Malkin's father): "He seemed very withdrawn when he flew to Finland with the team. I had a feeling within me. I understand, but I don't support. This is a childish act, but I'll have to talk to him personally before making my mind up."

Evgeni Malkin

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Malkin Walking?

From Reuters, 8/12/06:

Evgeni Malkin, the Pittsburgh Penguins' number one pick in 2004, has fled from his Russian club Metallurg Magnitogorsk days after agreeing a new contract, local media reported on Saturday.

News agency Itar-Tass, citing a source within the club, reported that Malkin had disappeared from Metallurg's training camp in Finland.

"Malkin secretly left the club, taking his belongings and his passport," the source said. Metallurg officials were not immediately available for comment.

Earlier this week, Metallurg said that Malkin had annulled his previous contract with the club, which would have kept him in Magnitogorsk through April 2008. Instead, he had signed a new one-year deal after which he would become a free agent.

The Russian, who turned 20 two weeks ago, has always stated his desire to play in the National Hockey League, saying he wanted to prove himself at a higher level.

Malkin's sudden disappearance was reminiscent of that of another gifted 20-year-old, Alexander Mogilny, who defected to the United States at the 1989 world championship in Sweden. In an All-Star career in the NHL, Mogilny won the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2000.

Pittsburgh drafted Malkin second overall in 2004 behind fellow Russian Alexander Ovechkin, who took the NHL by storm last season winning the Calder Trophy as the best rookie.

Metallurg, however, had no intention of releasing their most prized asset after Russia refused to sign a transfer agreement with the NHL earlier this month.

Under the agreement Magnitogorsk would have received a basic $200,000 fee for Malkin whereas the Russian club wanted at least 10 times more.


Evgeni Malkin of Metallurg Magnitogorsk arbitrarily left the team on Saturday. It seems that Malkin, who recently opened a "prison-themed" restaurant in his native Magnitogorsk called "VIP Zone", had already decided by then to free himself and take his leave for the NHL and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Malkin, who has been saying that he wanted to go overseas to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins, nevertheless signed a new contract with Metallurg, with an increase in salary, under which he was to play for Magnitogorsk through May 1st, 2007. Thus, now Malkin's hand appears on two contracts. The first, with Pittsburgh, was signed in Toronto in June, but did not take effect because of the Russian Hockey Federation's refusal to join the player transfer agreement between the IIHF and the NHL. The vice president of the NHL, Bill Daly, allowed the signing of Russian players to contracts beginning August 7th. However, Malkin placed his signature earlier. If he wants to play in the NHL now, he will have to return to the Penguins' office.

Most likely, Malkin left on Saturday to go overseas. According to a source with Metallurg Magnitogorsk,"Malkin has in his hands all of the necessary documents in order to depart into Canada, including an open visa."

Gennady Velichkin has so far declined to comment. Earlier, though, he actually showed indifference to Malkin continuing his hockey career with Metallurg: "We are tired of developing these players and then losing them to the NHL, without getting nary a crumb. If we receive worthy compensation from Pittsburgh, that would be the same victory in principle as if Malkin remained."

It bears note that after signing the new contract with Magnitogorsk, Malkin avoided commenting in every way possible. It seems that Malkin laughed over the efforts of the Magnitogorsk club, and he will not soon return to his native city, leaving as a farewell his own restaurant, "VIP Zone", where on July 31 he had celebrated his birthday.


UPDATE 8/13/06 11:24am - Some additional information, from an RIA story earlier today:

Gennady Velichkin, the general director of Magnitogorsk, described it this way in a telephone interview with the RIA on Sunday: "In the (Helsinki) airport, he walked away from the rest of team with some person. To us, it just looked like he wanted to talk off to the side with someone he knew. The team waited in the airport for two hours afterwards, but Malkin did not re-appear."

Malkin hasn't answered his phone for the last twenty-four hours.

"No one twisted Malkin's arm so that he would sign the (new 1-year) agreement," said Velichkin. "This (contract) was his own preference. Apparently now, his personal preference was to leave the team.

"His parents have told me that they knew nothing of this intention by their son. I don't understand why it was necessary for him to take this step. We no longer have an Iron Curtain."

UPDATE 12:49pm - Now Velchkin is saying that he wants to sue the Pittsburgh Penguins.

From Reuters (link first noticed on Kukla's Korner):

Russia's Metallurg Magnitogorsk will go to court to seek compensation from Pittsburgh Penguins after the sudden disappearance of their best player, Evgeni Malkin, the Superleague club's head said on Sunday.

"We're all in shock," Gennady Velichkin said after Malkin, Pittsburgh's number one pick in 2004, secretly fled Metallurg's training camp in Finland on Saturday just days after agreeing a new contract with the club. "The players, coaching staff are also very upset because for four days Malkin was training with the team and suddenly he is gone without saying a word to anyone," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Velichkin blamed Malkin's American agents and his NHL club for stealing Russia's best players. "They all like to talk about democracy, the American way and then they shamelessly steal our best players. This is pure sports terrorism.

"Don't forget, Malkin is a young kid, he is still very naive and it was easy for them to get into his head all that stuff about the American dream and how great the NHL is," he added.

"The Pittsburgh owners are trying hard to sell the club, and the price would be totally different if they had Malkin. But you can't just take our best players and expect to get away with it."

In a related article in Sport Express, regarding Metallurg's litigation threat, noted Russian hockey figure Yevgeny Zimin said that it shouldn't be suprising that Malkin ran out. Zimin says that a lot of Russia's problems with its players are because "the club's leaders sign young players to contracts for 5 and 6 years, thus enslaving the player. This, at its core, is improper; general practice shows that contracts should not be for more than 3 or 4 years." However, Zimin also added that Malkin "did not conduct this in a very manly manner", saying that Malkin has acted dishonorably by bringing judicial headaches "upon our Federation and for the Magnitogorsk club."

AHL prospects give Rangers options

Yesterday, Fox Sports posted an article about four of the Rangers' top forward prospects at the AHL level (link found through the ever-useful Even though Blueshirt Bulletin already picked apart some of the projections in the article, it's still worthwhile to read a mainstream opinion about some of the players from last years' (and possibly this years') Wolf Pack team.

Finally, the New York Rangers faithful have some legitimate prospect to watch as they hope to make the NHL roster this season. Even with the addition of free agent Brendan Shanahan, there will be battles over spots on the second to fourth lines in New York.

Expect to see the majority of the youth plug holes at the center position, primarily the weakest point on the roster. With Michael Nylander turning 34 at the beginning of the season and newly acquired Matt Cullen filling a third-line checking role in the middle, there is room to advance.

This organization over the past decade had not been very diligent about the development of prospects and used what few it had in trade for a win-now philosophy. And the few first-round picks who weren't traded didn't seem to develop. You can look at first-round flops from 1996 to 1999 such as Jeff Brown, Stefan Cherneski, Manny Malhotra, Jamie Lundmark and Pavel Brendl to see the futility. Of those five players, only Malhotra and Lundmark have played a significant amount of games in the NHL and both are third or fourth line players.

Things certainly did not improve on the top end in the drafts from 2000 to 2002, when they traded the first-round picks in two of those years. When given the opportunity Don Maloney and his scouting staff have done a fine job replenishing the cupboards and evaluating prospects in trades.

Jarkko Immonen, center, 24 (acquired via trade from Toronto)

Immonen is a late-round pick of the Maple Leafs who has shown great offensive ability in the Finnish Elite league at a young age. His skill and talents have translated to AHL level and the North American game, as he led his team in points with 70 points in 74 games before Brad Smyth was traded there. He is an all-round talent without any glaring weaknesses and will just need a little time to complete his development. He could become a solid second-line center if he dedicates himself to the game. He possesses good size at 6-foot and 210 pounds and displays the ability to be responsible in all areas of the game

Projection: Third-line center who could center the second line by the end of the year.

Nigel Dawes, left wing, 21, (fifth round, 149th overall pick in 2003)

Considering nobody gave him a chance to succeed until they saw him play at the WJC, Dawes has impressed many pundits. His first season in the AHL looked like a carbon copy of his junior career offensively as he posted 35 goals and 32 assist in 77 games. He proved he was a sniper with 146 goals in his last three years of junior, is nifty with the puck, and always manages to be at the right place at the right time. His playoff numbers in Hartford made it clear he could translate his performance when times were tough where he had 12 points in 13 games. He plays with tenacity and grit for a 5-foot-8, 185-pound player, so his size should not be a factor in the NHL.

Projection: Third-line left winger who may force Marcel Hossa to the right side if makes an impression in preseason.

Dwight Helminen, center, 23 (acquired via trade from Edmonton)

Helminen is a dangerous speed demon who has shown far more offensive upside in the last year considering his numbers in college. Although he is smaller at 5-foot-10, he is stocky at 190 pounds and plays with an edge and will battle in the tough areas. His previous season in Hartford, where he posted 32 goals and 55 points in 77 games, had shocked a few people. His penalty-killing prowess is intriguing to the Rangers and Helminen's four short-handed goals prove he is a threat. With the emphasis on special teams in the new NHL, he becomes a much more valuable asset than in the past.

Projection: Fourth-line center who has the speed to remind some of Todd Marchant.

Lauri Korpikoski, left wing, 20 (first round, 19th overall pick in 2004)

A quick-skating winger with a knack for scoring in droves at the junior level, Korpikoski has the creativity to be a playmaker, as well. He is still one year away from a roster spot, so that will give him time to work on the other aspects of his game and add a little size. He did play a limited amount of games last year in the AHL and managed three points in five games. In his last two seasons playing pro in Finland, he did not produce many points as he played in a limited capacity. However, it allowed him to adjust to professional hockey. At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Korpikoski will still need to add a little more strength, but he certainly as given the impression he can compete.

Projection: First-line left wing in Hartford and will have a chance to crack the Rangers roster next season.

If I were forced to quibble here, I would grade Brandon Dubinsky ahead of Dwight Helminen at center, plus (as it's already been pointed out before elsewhere) calling Stefan Cherneski a bust is sorta unfair considering the injury that ended his career.

(Immonen photo by Heather Sperrazza; Dawes, Helminen, and Korpikoski photos by Chis Rutsch)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Defenders Want To Shorten Fences To Make Up For Boring Team

Dodd Stadium

Seeing as how the Connecticut Defenders are last in the Eastern League this year in batting (.231) and runs scored (380 in 117 games; the Akron Aeros' .276 and 557 runs lead the league), as well as in home runs (66) and attendance (2,613 per game), you can't fault them for considering almost anything to put more runs on the scoreboard and more fans in the seats.

Since affiliating themselves with a more exciting parent club seems out of the question (the Giants haven't developed an everyday position player from their farm system in more than ten years), the next best option appears to be shortening the fences.

From the Aug. 10th edition of The Day (reg req):

The San Francisco Giants asked its minor league affiliate, the Connecticut Defenders, to consider moving the fence at Dodd Stadium closer to home plate, so there could be more home runs and more fun.

Considering the high expense involved, including pulling out and resetting deep-seated wall supports, team General Manager Jim Beaudoin suggested moving the infield about 10 feet closer to the existing walls.

The city already plans to resod the entire playing field this fall. The new lease city officials signed with the Defenders requires the city to replace the playing surface at the end of the 2006 season.

A plan to re-name Dodd Stadium as Dick Putz Field, for publicity's sake, was abandoned when the team found out that name was already taken.