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Malkin has his priorities in place

| Thursday, July 11, 2013, 8:12 p.m.
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin celebrates his first-period goal against the Flyers on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin celebrates his first-period goal against the Flyers on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

Evgeni Malkin enjoys spending his summers in Moscow. He would have enjoyed this one a lot less had he returned to his offseason home before agreeing to a long-term contract with the Penguins.

There is a reason his new contract with the Penguins came together over a span of five days in early June.

General manager Ray Shero wanted a deal done so that he could move onto negotiations with players such as Pascal Dupuis and Kris Letang. Also, Malkin (like Shero) anticipated the inevitable arm twisting by Russian friends – a group that includes mostly hockey players and entertainers but also influential private businessmen and public officials – for Malkin to stay home and sign a lucrative, tax-free deal with the Kontinental Hockey League.

When in Russia, intimidation is a powerful motivator. In July 2006, Malkin was pressured into signing a new contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk after club officials refused to leave his parents' house. Ultimately, agent J.P. Barry legally broke that deal and helped his client get to Pittsburgh, but the experience permanently scarred Malkin's psyche.

He felt taken advantage of, and he feared for possible repercussions against his parents, Vladimir and Natalia, and brother, Denis. Malkin said he decided then that he would never put himself or his loved ones in a similar situation.

He spent the NHL lockout playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and described the experience as “good.” However, he did not enjoy the attention of being one of his country's greatest athletes playing at home, and he also did not favor the challenging travel and outdated practice methods that were part of Russian hockey.

Upon returning to Pittsburgh in January, Malkin decided he would sign with the Penguins for as long as the NHL labor contract would allow – even if that meant taking less money than the $15 to $20 million per season that friends told him was available in the KHL.

Also upon returning to Pittsburgh, Malkin insisted that Denis join his parents on their annual visit from Magnitogorsk. After all, nobody in Russia could get to Denis if he was in Pittsburgh when Malkin negotiated his deal with the Penguins.

Malkin has said that all Russian-born NHL players “love (our) country very much.” He also stressed that not every Russian is “like” Ilya Kovalchuk, who on Thursday retired from the NHL with 12 years and $77 million remaining on his contract with New Jersey.

Kovalchuk is a close friend to Malkin, and he is revered by other Russian stars, including Washington's Alex Ovechkin. Unlike Malkin and Ovechkin, though, Kovalchuk has long hinted – and over the past year publicly stated – that he would prefer to play hockey at home.

The Devils have decided to let him do exactly that, freeing him to sign with a KHL club.

Malkin's new contract is his third in the NHL, and he has already made about $47.5 million on previous deals.

If ever there was a time to choose playing hockey at home, this summer was it. Instead, Malkin reiterated his oft-stated desire to play “with (the) best players in (the) NHL,” re-signed with the Penguins and started the process of building a lavish house near Sewickley.

“Evgeni told me he didn't want to go back to Moscow without getting this done with Pittsburgh,” Barry said last month. “For a lot of reasons — and think about what Evgeni has gone through — it was in everybody's best interest to get something done quickly.”

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