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Thief in the night

Russian team accuses Pens of stealing Malkin

Posted: Monday August 14, 2006 1:57PM; Updated: Monday August 14, 2006 2:45PM
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Malkin is the most notable Russian defection since Alexander Mogilny in 1989.
Malkin is the most notable Russian defection since Alexander Mogilny in 1989.
Dave Sandford/Getty Images
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MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia's Metallurg Magnitogorsk will go to court to seek compensation from Pittsburgh Penguins after the sudden disappearance of their best player, Evgeni Malkin, the Superleague club's head said on Sunday.

"We're all in shock," Gennady Velichkin said after Malkin, Pittsburgh's  No. 1 pick in 2004, secretly fled Metallurg's training camp in Finland on Saturday just days after agreeing a new contract with the club.

"The players, coaching staff are also very upset because for four days Malkin was training with the team and suddenly he is gone without saying a word to anyone," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Last week, Metallurg said that Malkin had annulled his previous contract with the club, which would have kept him in Magnitogorsk through April 2008. Instead, he had signed a new one-year deal after which he would become a free agent.

But the young Russian, who turned 20 two weeks ago, has always stated his desire to play in the National Hockey League (NHL), saying he wanted to prove himself at a higher level.

Velichkin blamed Malkin's American agents and his NHL club for stealing Russia's best players.

Sports terrorism

"They all like to talk about democracy, the American way and then they shamelessly steal our best players. This is pure sports terrorism," said the Metallurg general director.

"Don't forget, Malkin is a young kid, he is still very naive and it was easy for them to get into his head all that stuff about the American dream and how great the NHL is," he added.

"The Pittsburgh owners are trying hard to sell the club, and the price would be totally different if they had Malkin.

"But you can't just take our best players and expect to get away with it."

The talented center, who has been compared with Pittsburgh owner, the great Mario Lemieux, has been the most sought-after player by the NHL this year.

Pittsburgh drafted Malkin second overall in 2004 behind fellow Russian Alexander Ovechkin, who took the NHL by storm last season, winning the Calder Trophy as the best rookie.

Velichkin said the fact that Russia has refused to sign a transfer deal with the NHL would not prevent his club from going to court in the United States to seek compensation for Malkin.

Russia remained the only major hockey nation not to sign the deal, which was approved by the International Ice Hockey Federation in 2005.

"We've put so much effort, resources and money into Malkin's development as a player. He was our gold diamond, our prize possession. He had a contract with us, we were building the whole team around him and now he is gone," Velichkin said.

"But don't think we'll just sit there and do nothing. We'll go to court to get what we believe is proper compensation."

Under the transfer deal Magnitogorsk would have received a basic $200,000 fee for Malkin while Metallurg reportedly wanted at least 10 times more.

Velichkin declined to specify the sum he was seeking for Malkin, pointing to similar deals involving soccer players.

"In soccer, a fee for a player of Malkin's calibre would be into tens of millions of dollars," he said. "He is a franchise player and we won't be satisfied with anything less."

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