Malkin's second guess led to his flight to U.S.
Regretted Russian signing under psychological pressure
Saturday, August 19, 2006
By Robert Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Russian hockey sensation Evgeni Malkin said he second-guessed himself just hours after he signed a new contract with his hometown team two weeks ago, triggering a chain of events that led to a clandestine escape to Los Angeles so he could play in the NHL with the Penguins.
Granting a select set of interviews yesterday through his agents at IMG Hockey in Los Angeles, the 20-year-old Malkin made his first public statements about an intrigue-filled flight that has rankled Russian officials and raised expectations with Pittsburgh hockey fans.
While he speaks no English, Malkin made his comments to interpreter Slava Malamud, a correspondent with the Moscow-based Sport Express who interviewed him at IMG offices.
Malkin wanted all along to play for the Penguins this season and said he was advised by his agent, J.P. Barry of IMG, not to sign a reworked deal with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Russian Super League. But, when team officials came to his house two weeks ago and with his parents present, he signed a one-year deal at 3 a.m. after what was described as nonstop pressure.
"The next morning when I woke up, I called Mr. Barry and asked him to help," Malkin told Malamud. "I was pressured very hard. I kept asking them, 'Why aren't you keeping your promise to let me play in America?' They did not want to listen. They just kept on with their arguments."
Malkin's version of events since that signing are consistent with what his agents had told various news outlets: He went to a training site in Finland with the Metallurg team, which had held his passport. He kept the passport after entering Finland and, last Saturday, bolted the team to stay in a secret apartment with Barry and one of his associates in Helsinki. He interviewed for a visa application with the U.S. Embassy Monday and departed for Los Angeles the next day after the visa was approved.
Although Malkin said he never received any specific physical threats, he said Metallurg general director Gennady Velichkin applied psychological pressure because the team wanted his services for another year.
At the root of the international incident is the lack of a transfer agreement between the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and the NHL. The Russians agreed in principle to an agreement that would pay a $200,000 fee for a player who goes to the NHL, but they failed to sign it by the July 31 deadline, which coincidentally was Malkin's birthday.
Malkin said he was told last year that he would be free to go to the Penguins, but he felt he was being used as leverage by Velichkin to produce better terms. Metallurg officials believe that proper compensation would be in the millions of dollars.
"I'm very hurt. You cannot treat people like that. They promised me last year I would be free," Malkin told Malamud. "Now it turns out they're not going to keep their word while I am supposed to."
In the meantime, Malkin has given two-weeks' notice to Metallurg, which under Russian labor law would free him from his obligations. An incensed Velichkin, who has accused the Penguins of "sports terrorism" by stealing his star player, has said he will sue to keep his property. Other Russian players who bolted for the NHL have won their cases.
There is no word on when Malkin will travel to Pittsburgh, but he expects to be in camp when rookies report in early September.