Evgeni Malkin in action against the Red Wings at Mellon Arena.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
OTTAWA -- Sidney Crosby gave the Penguins a hefty discount when he accepted a contract worth an average of $8.7 million per season last summer.
Evgeni Malkin, however, is prepared to give them one that will dwarf Crosby's gesture.
Several teams in the new Continental Hockey League in Russia reportedly plan to offer Malkin a deal that would pay him roughly $12.5 million, tax-free, per season, making Malkin the highest-paid hockey player in the world.
Nonetheless, Malkin apparently is intent on remaining with the Penguins, who are expected to give him a five- or six-year deal worth $8.5 million per season.
"He wants to stay in Pittsburgh," said J.P. Barry, his agent. "He wants them to keep as many players as they can, so we're working on a term and a structure that will hopefully do that.
"He could make, if he chose to go [to Russia] next year after his contract expired, double or triple what he's going to make here. That's not what he's interested in doing."
Malkin's base salary for 2008-09 will be $984,200, the maximum allowed by the league's collective bargaining agreement. Barry said he and general manager Ray Shero have the "framework" of a new deal in place, and that "I don't see any major hurdles" that would prevent an agreement.
Ideally, Barry added, one will be worked out by early next month. Per the CBA, Malkin's new deal could not be put in place before July 1 since he has a year left on his current contract.
Barry said that, because Shero has an idea of the contract terms Malkin is seeking, he should have a feel for the resources he can invest in some of the Penguins' unrestricted-free-agents-to-be, particularly winger Marian Hossa and defenseman Brooks Orpik.
"That's the real purpose of why we gave them an idea up front, so they could go to Hossa and have some certainty about what they're doing," Barry said. "The very reason we got out in front of this with Pittsburgh was to help them.
"My understanding is that priority No. 1 is Evgeni Malkin, priority No. 2 is Marian Hossa and you move down from there. If that's not the priority, I'd like to hear that."
Having Malkin under contract at a cut rate could make him more tradeable. Even though Malkin won't be eligible for a no-trade clause for a few years, Barry was adamant that implicit in him accepting less money is that the Penguins won't deal him.
"There is a risk [of him being traded at some point in the future], and that's something we'll talk about, too," he said. "The purpose is not to negotiate a deal to help Pittsburgh and [have Malkin] not be in Pittsburgh."
Malkin played for his hometown team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, in the Russian Super League, the forerunner to the Continental League. He left in 2006 and won a league challenge by Magnitogorsk, which contended he had a valid contract.
Malkin, however, insisted he signed that agreement under duress, and a federal court in New York ruled in his favor.
The Toronto Star reported yesterday that "several teams" in the new league were interested in having Malkin on their roster when it begins play Sept. 2. That prompted a hard-line reaction by Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation.
He issued a statement saying that if the Russian league signs Malkin while he is under contract in the NHL, sanctions could include denying the country an opportunity to compete in international tournaments such as the Olympics and world championships.
"We would view any signing, from either side, of a player under a valid contract, who does not have any legally valid out-clause, to be a clear violation of the mutual understanding and existing principle," Fasel said. "It would potentially be punishable with suspended national team eligibility and suspension from all competition or activity organized by the IIHF or any IIHF member national association.
"This would include events like the Olympic Winter Games, the IIHF World Championship or international club competitions like the Champions Hockey League. Given this [prospect of harsh sanctions], we are confident that the [Star] report is not substantiated."
That point apparently is moot, however, since Malkin prefers to stay with his current team.
"He came here for a reason," Shero said. "He came to the National Hockey League to play in Pittsburgh."