If he already isn't heading for Pittsburgh or some secretive destination in the United States, Evgeni Malkin at least is heading for the Penguins.
Taking that first legal step toward the resolution of placing their client in the NHL, Malkin's agents sent a fax to Metallurg Magnitogorsk and notified the Russian club's management that he intends to void the one-year contract he signed less than a fortnight ago. This resignation, legal in Russia (where hockey authorities reportedly are striving to close such a loophole), apparently was filed yesterday. Thus, that maneuver would free Malkin and make Aug. 30 as his start date to officially join the Penguins, with a contract signing considered routine.
"All we've got so far is a fax from his agents notifying us that they're giving us, under Russian law, the [mandatory] two-week's notice to terminate his contract so that he can join the Pittsburgh Penguins," Metallurg coach Dave King, formerly of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Canadian national team, said in a radio interview yesterday with The Fan 590-AM in Toronto.
TSN in Canada reported that Malkin is in seclusion in Europe and will be escorted to an American location either last night or early today. A source told the Post-Gazette that it's conceivable Malkin already is in Pittsburgh and preparing to go public, with perhaps a press conference, as soon as tomorrow.
His agents, Pat Brisson and J.P. Barry, didn't return calls, and Penguins officials declined comment. King said the late-night negotiations, which by many accounts concluded with Malkin's 3 a.m. signing, seemed to be the bump in a road to America that most everyone expected this flashy centerman to take this season.
"It's no surprise to the coaching staff or the players. We all knew that Evgeni really, really wanted to go," King said of Malkin's trek to the NHL. "The [Metallurg] executives that kind of put the pressure on him to sign, I think they're a little bit miffed and a little bit surprised.
"After he signed a contract with us, the next morning I met with him in my office, and I said to him, 'I'm a little bit surprised by your decision , Evgeni. What are you thinking?' And he said to me very clearly: 'I really don't want to be here. I want to go to the NHL. But I feel like I owe the organization so much for developing me as a player ... we have a new arena [in the works].' All these obligations are weighing heavily on his mind. He's just a young guy; he just turned 20 years old. I think he kind of let that pressure get to him, and he relented and signed.
"My only advice to him was, 'It's your career. You've got to do the things that you think are right for you.' Little did I know when I said that, four days later he'd be gone. But it's still the best thing for him."
Malkin spent six days in training camp with Metallurg, the team based in his steel-town home of Magnitogorsk, and played one exhibition against the Soviet Wings before the team flew to Finland for a Tampere tournament. It was in the Helsinki-Vanaa airport where Malkin vanished on his coaches and teammates. "Somehow, we lost him," King said. "He's gone. He's gone to North America."
A Tampere tournament official told a Finnish television station that Malkin boarded a flight to New York but, at the time, he had only a passport good in the West for Canada. King guessed that Malkin was with Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin, his Russian friend whom he was drafted immediately behind at No. 2 in 2004.
"I know he wanted to join Ovechkin somewhere in the Eastern U.S.; they were going to work with a personal fitness coach," King said.
Ovechkin, however, told Sport Express of Russia that he hadn't heard from Malkin and was in Toronto.
King, long ago the Canadian national coach for whom a young Mario Lemieux declined to play, went so far as to proffer the suggestion that Malkin was in hiding not far from Mellon Arena.
"I think he's in Pittsburgh," King said. "We're under the impression he was going to New York, and I think by now he'd be in Pittsburgh. Try to get himself settled there and get ready to go."
Whatever geographic route Malkin is taking, his logistical route is being followed by two other countrymen.
The same two-weeks' notice plan is being used against the Yarsolavl Lokomotiv club, from where forwards Alexei Mikhonov and Andrei Taratukhin are trying to jump to the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, respectively. In Mikhonov's case, he gave his two-week notice June 30 but has yet to clear that obstacle. According to reports in Canada, agents for both such players may be waiting until a resolution of the Malkin situation before completing their NHL deals.
Whatever the case, however this foreign intrigue plays out, King spoke about how the Penguins -- already blessed with Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury, among other young prospects -- are about to receive a world-class star.
"We knew he was ready to play. Certainly, we're going to miss him," King said. "He's got a natural enthusiasm for the game. He loves hockey and he likes to train, practice hard -- a very energetic player. Skill-wise, he's got size and speed. He's got a terrific, terrific reach -- long arms. He'll take passes from people and get breakaways. With his vision and skills, he'll really enhance your power play.
"He's ready to play in the NHL."