Malkin's parents say he was pressured in Russia
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The foreign intrigue surrounding Evgeni Malkin grew so cloak-and-dagger yesterday that even Interpol was invoked by one of the parties.
It was a day when the Penguins prospect's father talked openly about how his son "snapped." A day when his mother and others portrayed him as a troubled young man pressured into making a 3 a.m. deal with his Russian team a week ago. A day when Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar compared the kid's flight to the Iron Curtain defections of Alexander Mogilny and Sergei Fedorov a decade and a half earlier. A day when the Metallurg Magnitogorsk general director accused the Penguins and the NHL of crimes against the hockey world, calling this "the theft of the century," even with 94 years still to go.
And this was only Day 3 of The Heck with Carmen Sandiego, Where In the World is Evgeni Malkin?
Speaking of his whereabouts, speculation has centered upon Toronto, where his agents, Pat Brisson and J.P. Barry, have an auxiliary office and where one Russian tabloid reported that a fellow resembling Malkin had been spotted. Reportedly, station MTV3 in Finland, where Metallurg is playing in a tournament, quoted a tournament official yesterday as saying that Malkin left Helsinki-Vantaa airport on a plane Saturday bound for New York.
What remains certain is that Malkin, who turned 20 on July 31, left Metallurg behind Saturday at an airport in Finland, where the team began training, and likely headed to North America to commence his legal march toward the Penguins. Conceivably, he could hunker in seclusion for a two-week wait, the mandatory period in Russian law under which he can inform his employers he is leaving.
"I can tell you I think he is safe, but I cannot comment on anything else," agent Brisson told The Associated Press.
Gennady Velichkin, the Metallurg team boss, certainly didn't hesitate to comment. He told Soviet Sport:
"How am I supposed to look for him? What, am I supposed to ask Interpol to look for him? Is it not clear that Evgeni left for America at the invitation of the people overseas? The Americans' arrogance is beyond any bounds. This is the theft of the century. They don't care that Malkin is Russia's national treasure.
"We must sue not only Pittsburgh but the entire National Hockey League and its whole arrogance. The NHL must receive a total condemnation from the entire sporting world. Let's get back to the question of the compensation. ... Money is not most important for us. The most important [aspect] for us is to get a precedent and win the case."
However, in the case of players who reached American soil, such as Ovechkin and Columbus' Nikolai Zherdev, the legal maneuvering by Russian hockey authorities held no sway in U.S. courts. However, Malkin, unlike in those cases, has a new contract in place. The circumstances under which he agreed to that deal, though, remain in debate.
He signed last week in the early hours of the morning, after a plea from the Metallurg corporation president, Viktor Rashnikov, if not from others in a sport long influenced across Russia by the mafia there. "He simply wanted to play in the NHL," Natalia Malkin told the Sport Gazeta. "But the management of Metallurg played on his patriotic feelings. He was not able to refuse." After that Godfather-esque comment, Malkin's mother added that her son left for Finland "very disgruntled." She continued, without specifying who, "I still feel that others used my son for their purposes."
Malkin's father, Vladimir, told Komsomolskaya Pravda: "My son simply snapped, his nerves did not hold on. In the last moment, they persuaded him to stay in Magnitka, though his mind was already in the NHL. I understand him, but I don't support him. It was a childish act. Before I give my final assessment, I need to talk to him personally." The parents said they've tried to contact him, but his cellular phone is turned off.
NHL vice president Bill Daly, in an e-mail interview yesterday, intimated about Malkin's one-year Metallurg contract -- hastily negotiated down from his previous two-year deal -- when he said, "The days of involuntary servitude are behind us. We certainly respect the player's ability to make personal choices consistent with his rights and obligations under applicable law. And it certainly doesn't surprise us that he wants to play in the NHL. At the end of the day, players are going to play where they want to play."
Daly added that this Malkin matter might lead to Russia at last agreeing to the NHL's transfer agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation, whose president, Rene Fasel, spoke with Daly by telephone yesterday.
"We did discuss Malkin among a host of other things," Daly wrote. "We are hopeful that, in light of what has transpired, it may create an opportunity to sit down at an early date and negotiate the terms of a new Player Transfer Agreement that the Russians will participate in."
The Russians refused to sign the past two contracts mostly because many of them believed a player of Malkin's ability would be worth more than $200,000 that the current agreement stipulates.
So continued a topsy-turvy week for Malkin. First, his then-agent, Don Meehan, expressed his client's desires to play for the Penguins this season. Then Malkin fired Meehan, who represented him for barely two months. Then he signed that early morning deal with Metallurg. Then he rehired Brisson and Barry. Then he fled Finland, passports and personal belongings in tow.
"You know what, there'd be lots to say, but I don't think it would really be my place," Meehan said yesterday by phone from his suburban-Toronto office. "If you wanted to get an update on the process, you'd be better off talking to Mr. Barry and Mr. Brisson."
Neither returned calls from the Post-Gazette, though Barry's Calgary office reported that he was "on vacation." Penguins officials continued to decline comment.
Gonchar, a lockout teammate of Malkin's in Magnitogorsk two years ago and on the Russian Olympic team in February, told the Sport Express while summering in St. Petersburg: "It appears the times have changed [since Mogilny and Fedorov defected in 1991], but they haven't changed enough. Otherwise, why would Evgeni do the same thing? It's his right, which all of us have. ... It seems strange that he signed his contract with Metallurg at 3 o'clock in the morning. As far as I know, documents like these don't get signed at such a time. So judging by these rumors, the player has reasons to do what he did."
Perhaps the most reasoned response came from the legendary goaltender who heads the Russian Hockey Federation, Vladislav Tretiak: "Why did things need to end up in a scandal?"
First Published August 15, 2006 12:00 am