The Malkin debate
Get this straight, Gennady: Nobody owns Evgeni Malkin and his talent except himself. If he was stolen, it's just like the sort of theft that occurred when somebody would tunnel under the Berlin Wall back in the 20th century.
And don't blame the Russian Ice Hockey Federation for not signing off on the transfer agreement. Most believe Malkin is the best player in the world not currently in the NHL. And paying just $200,000 to steal a guy away like that is ridiculous. They already gave us Alaska. They should want more.
Players who want to play in the National Hockey League are going to come here — regardless of whether there is a player-transfer agreement in place.
Without getting into what looks to be the beginnings of a messy legal battle, let me start with what I think we should be expecting here.
No. 1: Evgeni Malkin will suit up for the Pittsburgh Penguins this season. While there's been all kinds of debate as to where the young phenom will play this fall, I've been almost certain all along he'd make the jump to the NHL — if only because of the fame and fortune the youngster saw his close friend Alex Ovechkin achieve in his first season. Malkin going MIA has only reinforced the idea he's headed for Pittsburgh, and I expect he'll sign an entry-level deal in the next few days.
No. 2: Malkin's agents in North America, J.P. Barry and Pat Brisson, knew this move was coming and may have even facilitated it. Regardless of how their client gets to North America, agents are only going to see the substantial greenbacks associated with a kid like Malkin if he's in the NHL. It's in their interest that he plays in Pittsburgh this season, and you can bet it was quite a sell to pursuade him.
No. 3: The Penguins eventually pay off Metallurg Magnitogorsk for a sum greater than the $200,000 specified in the unsigned transfer agreement — whether that comes as the result of a court settlement (unlikely) or not.
It'd be stunning if things played out any differently than that, but even with that meted out, there are some perplexing questions here. Why, for instance, did Malkin bother signing with a one-year deal with his Russian club when he had no intention of honouring that contract? (The only answer I can come up with here is that the contract was merely to appease the team and allow Malkin to flee the country far earlier.)
Defections in hockey are nothing new, and we saw our fair share of them in the early 1990s — most notably with the trio of Sergei Fedorov, Alex Mogilny and Pavel Bure. The difference then was that Russians playing in the NHL was sort of a new frontier — a great unknown, if you will. At the time, defectors like Mogilny left as much to escape an oppressive regime as to play hockey in the NHL. (His first few games saw Mogilny looking pale as a ghost as he feared for the safety of his parents given the hostility back home.)
Malkin, on the other hand, is more of a modern-day athletic equivalent: He's after the money, the fame, the fortune. His parents didn't endorse their son's apparent defection — or even know about it.
All accounts are Malkin was disgruntled with the Russian hockey federation's failure to sign a tranfer agreement and get him to his preferred destination — Pittsburgh — as soon as possible. He's also earned himself a reputation as a bit of an impetuous fellow, and this move is just one in a growing line of curious decisions.
The curious thing about all this is that Malkin signed an agreement to stay with his hometown club last week, which is where this compensation debate comes into play. Given that contract and an impending legal battle, the Penguins are going to have to fork out whatever negotiated price the two sides can settle on. And you can bet it'll be well beyond the paltry $200,000 transfer sum that's in effect under the agreement the NHL has with every other European nation.
The thing is, the on-the-block Pittsburgh franchise is far from being awash in money, and having to fork out an unnecessary $1-million plus can't sit well with the team's brass. Had Malkin simply walked away from his Russian team without having signed the reworked agreement, you have to think the resultant firestorm would be far less intense.
My guess is this is just the first in a long line of headaches this just-turned-20 phenom is going to serve up along the way.
Even still, it says here all this comes to a close about 10 months from now when Malkin's name joins his pal Alex's on the Calder Memorial Trophy.