Malkin arrives in Pittsburgh, will sign with Penguins today

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Evgeni Malkin won't be able to read the contract he'll sign this morning.

He won't even be able to thank any of the people who negotiated it. Not in English, anyway.

But Mr. Malkin, a 20-year-old from Russia, at least will be able to affix his name to the document that formalizes his arrival in the National Hockey League, and that is what's most important to all.

Mr. Malkin's contract with the Penguins covers three seasons as mandated by the NHL's collective bargaining agreement and will pay him an annual salary of $984,200, the most the CBA allows for a player drafted in 2004.

The deal is believed to include performance and award-based bonuses that could bump his rookie-season earnings to more than $3.5 million.

Mr. Malkin, who has spent the past several weeks in Los Angeles after leaving his Russian Super League team during preseason training in Finland, will sign the contract before a 10 a.m. news conference today at Mellon Arena.

He arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport last night after flying across the country with one of his agents, Pat Brisson.

Speaking through an interpreter, Mr. Malkin told reporters near the baggage-claim area that, "I'm very pleased to arrive here," and said he was looking forward to meeting franchise icon/owner Mario Lemieux.

Mr. Malkin's deal is patterned after one signed by Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin, who was claimed first -- one spot ahead of Mr. Malkin -- in the 2004 entry draft. Reports out of Washington have placed the potential value of that contract as high as $3.83 million annually.

It also is similar to one signed by Penguins center Sidney Crosby, the first player drafted in 2005, although the CBA limits Mr. Crosby's base pay to $850,000.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero could not be reached for comment on Mr. Malkin's contract. Perhaps more important, there has been no comment yet from Mr. Malkin's former Super League team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, which has threatened legal action if he signed to play in the NHL.

Magnitogorsk officials believe that Mr. Malkin has a valid contract with their club, although the Malkin camp contends that deal was signed under duress.

In accordance with Russian labor law, Mr. Malkin exercised his option to sever ties with an employer by giving two weeks' written notice to Magnitogorsk, but it is not known if those regulations also allow him to ply his trade with the employer of his choice.

While there are indications that Magnitogorsk has all but abandoned the idea of trying to have Mr. Malkin forced to play for it this winter, the team is expected to seek monetary compensation for surrendering his rights.

An agreement negotiated by the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federations sets that transfer fee at $200,000 per player -- payable by the NHL office from a pool to which all 30 franchises contribute -- but the Russian hockey federation has declined to participate in that arrangement.

Executives of several Super League teams, including Magnitogorsk, have argued that $200,000 is not adequate compensation for elite players, and that releases should be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Brisson said he and Mr. Malkin's other agent, J.P. Barry, will meet with Penguins officials today to discuss how to deal with any possible legal challenges from Magnitogorsk.

"We'll see from there what we're going to do," he said. "We're going a step at a time."

Magnitgorsk is Mr. Malkin's hometown team, and the controversy that surrounded his departure has left an indelible mark.

"It is very difficult for me to go back to those memories," Mr. Malkin said. "It took quite a long time for me to go through the whole thing and to finally arrive here, to find myself here. I wouldn't like to speak about all that I've been through right now. The only thing I can tell you is that I'm really so happy to be here, finally."

Mr. Malkin is scheduled to live with Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who speaks Russian, at least through the early part of the 2006-07 season, to ease his adjustment to North America.

He studied a Russian-to-English dictionary during his flight yesterday.

Mr. Brisson said Mr. Malkin is motivated to do everything necessary to succeed in the NHL. "It's a dream. From what I understand, he's been dreaming about this since he was a seven-year-old boy."

Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette
Evgeni Malkin arrives at Pittsburgh International Airport last night.
Click photo for larger image.

Dave Molinari can be reached at 412-263-1144.


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