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Pens, Malkin's agent opening talks

| Sunday, Aug. 6, 2006

No transfer deal, no problem.

Despite the Russian Ice Hockey Federation's refusal to sign a deal that would allow its players to leave for the NHL, the Penguins and Evgeni Malkin's agent are opening contract negotiations, and the top prospect should be in the lineup on opening night.

"The (NHL) announced that clubs would be free to sign players given that (Russia has) not been able to agree to a transfer agreement, and, as a result, we're going to move ahead and negotiate with Pittsburgh," Malkin's agent, Don Meehan, said Wednesday. "That's a priority for us now."

The NHL gave the Russian Ice Hockey Federation until Monday to sign a transfer deal that was negotiated and ratified in June after president Vladislav Tretiak and general director Sergey Arutyunyan traveled to the United States to meet with deputy commissioner Bill Daly and commissioner Gary Bettman.

Daly confirmed yesterday that they were moving ahead without Russia on board with the other European countries that signed the transfer agreement last summer.

"There is no longer a possibility of an agreement this year that will involve the Russian Federation joining our existing player transfer agreement," Daly said.

But, Daly added, that does not necessarily mean that Russian players cannot come to the NHL.

"If the player can secure his own release, either pursuant to the terms of his existing Russian contract or pursuant to applicable Russian law, NHL clubs will be free to sign such player, and the resulting NHL contract will be registered and approved as valid for play in the NHL," Daly said.

Malkin is under contract to his Russian team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, through 2008. But a provision in Russian labor law allows employees to leave their jobs whether a contract exists or not after giving two weeks' written notice.

Malkin has already given such notice, Meehan said yesterday.

"We have followed the provision under that law, and we've given the appropriate notice," said Meehan, who said that he spoke with Penguins general manager Ray Shero yesterday. "Now, the next step after that would be to negotiate with Pittsburgh."

It turns out that Malkin is the primary reason why the Russians wouldn't sign the deal.

The existing transfer agreement between the IIHF and NHL calls for a fixed transfer fee of $200,000 for each player who leaves his European team for the NHL. Ultimately, that figure was simply not acceptable to the Russian Federation when it came to Malkin.

"Evgeni Malkin is a Russian hockey star," Arutyunyan said through a translator from the Federation yesterday. "We deem that the payment for his transfer has to be more than $200,000 dollars. But (the) NHL doesn't want to do that."

There is a chance that Magnitogorsk will attempt to sue either Malkin or the Penguins despite his notification that he is leaving.

"Russian clubs will have legal proceedings against NHL clubs in courts if NHL clubs sign contracts with Russian players who have valid contracts with Russian clubs," Arutyunyan said.

Last year, Washington Capitals rookie Alexander Ovechkin was sued by his former team in Russia, Moscow Dynamo, which tried to have the U.S. District Court in Washington enforce a Russian arbitration board's ruling that Ovechkin had to honor his contract through 2005-06.

But that lawsuit was dismissed by the judge, who ruled that his court did not have jurisdiction to enforce the Russian board's ruling.

"The fact that a Russian team may sue doesn't necessarily mean they have a valid claim," Daly said.

Meehan said he expects to negotiate the contract, which as an entry-level deal is capped at $984,200 plus bonuses under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, over the next week.

Malkin, 20, was the Penguins' top pick and the second pick overall in 2004. He is considered the best player outside of the NHL and last year was third in scoring in the Russian Elite League. He is expected to the Penguins' No. 2 center behind second-year star Sidney Crosby.

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