Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

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."