Bad news for the Penguins coming out of Russia yesterday was overshadowed by Evgeni Malkin's agent saying last night that he expects the prospect to play in the NHL this coming season.
Don Meehan, who represents Malkin, said he is about to begin contract negotiations with the Penguins and expects the 20-year-old center to head to North America soon.
"Our intention will still be to have him come and play with the Penguins this season," Meehan said.
Malkin, the second overall pick in the 2004 NHL draft, spent last season in Russia. It looked as if he might have to stay there when the Russian Federation announced yesterday that it had reversed course and would not sign the European transfer agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation.
Malkin is under contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Russian Super League for two more years. Meehan said it is his understanding that Russian labor law allows employees to leave their employers with a certain type of notice. He expects several Russian players who have been drafted by NHL teams to use the same means to leave Russia.
Meehan said that Malkin, who has said he hoped and planned to play for the Penguins this season, is not with Metallurg in its training camp but is working out on his own.
The Penguins, who have been counting on Malkin to complement second-year center Sidney Crosby, could not confirm that Malkin is coming.
"We were hoping to have an agreement between the NHL and the Russian Federation, but seeing there is not going to be an agreement, we are going to talk to Evgeni's agents to see what our options are," Penguins spokesman Tom McMillan said.
The Russian news agency RIA Novosti broke the news that Vladislav Tretiak, head of the Russian Federation, reported his country won't sign the transfer agreement. About eight weeks ago, the Russian Federation agreed in principle to the transfer agreement, but it never formally signed the papers.
It's believed Super League owners were behind the reluctance to sign the agreement, under which NHL teams pay into a pool that provides a $200,000 fee for a player under contract to a European team whose country has signed the agreement.
Tretiak seemed to indicate as much.
"At the talks with the IIHF and the NHL ... we failed to take into full account the interests of Russian clubs, which have players that interest the NHL," Tretiak was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.
"The RHF therefore decided it was impossible for Russia to join this transfer agreement."
Metallurg general director Gennady Velichkin even threatened to sue the Penguins to force them to buy Malkin's contract for millions of dollars.
The major rift, though, apparently is between Russia and the IIHF.
"We saw great interest on the part of the NHL to cooperate, and its interest in Russian players. The talks were constructive," Tretiak said in the news report.
Malkin, a physical player who got international experience the past eight months playing in the Olympics, the world junior championships and the world championships, had 21 goals, 26 assists in 46 games for Metallurg.
Contract negotiations with the Penguins are expected to be relatively smooth. Malkin most likely would get the maximum under the year-old collective bargaining agreement, a three-year entry-level deal with a $984,200 salary plus a signing bonus of up to 10 percent of his salary and some other bonuses, primarily based on performance.
NOTES -- The Penguins signed winger Libor Pivko, acquired from Nashville in a trade last month, to a one-year contract. General manager Ray Shero has said he expects Pivko, 26, to earn a spot on the NHL roster or return to the Czech Republic. They also signed defenseman Alain Nasreddine to a one-year contract. Primarily a career minor-leaguer, Nasreddine, 31, played in six NHL games last season and has appeared in 24 in his career. Both signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $450,000 if they stick in the NHL.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721.