Russian star surfaces in L.A.

Star forward Evgeni Malkin surfaced in L.A. yesterday and skated with some NHL’ers after an anxious four days of intrigue reminiscent of Cold War-era player defections.
Pat Brisson, who represents the Pittsburgh Penguins’ draft pick along with J.P. Barry, said Malkin arrived in L.A. on Wednesday after sneaking away from his Russian league team Saturday once he obtained his passport and hiding out with Barry in Helsinki, Finland while awaiting a visa.
“In Russia they’re using the word defection,” Brisson told The Canadian Press from L.A. “He hasn’t done anything wrong.
“He’s not defecting. Basically he said, ‘It’s my right, this is what I’m doing.’”
Malkin’s stint on the ice with players like Rob Blake, Glen Murray, Chris Drury, and Anson Carter was a welcome relief for the 20-year-old—caught in a tug of war between his Russian Super League club, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and the Penguins.
Brisson, Barry, and a legal team held a conference call yesterday evening to plot their next move in getting the 20-year-old into a Penguins’ uniform for the 2006-07 season.
“It’s more the timing, if and when,” said Brisson. “That’s what we’re waiting to know from our legal counsel.”
The key question before them is when the letter of resignation Malkin filed Monday with Metallurg Magnitogorsk terminating his contract takes effect.
Russian law permits an employee—even an athlete under contract—to leave his job by giving two weeks’ written notice.
“That’s exactly what we’re looking into at this point,” Brisson said. “We have an idea of what we’re going to do, but we have to go a step a time here.”
Metallurg Magnitogorsk has threatened to sue the Penguins over his departure and are demanding compensation. Russian teams have refused to sign the NHL’s transfer agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation.
Malkin—drafted second overall in 2004—is considered the best player outside the NHL and his arrival in Pittsburgh to team up with Sidney Crosby has been eagerly anticipated.
“We have been informed by Evgeni Malkin’s agents that Evgeni is now in the United States,” Penguins’ GM Ray Shero said in a statement.
“At the appropriate time, we look forward to sitting down with Evgeni and his representatives to discuss what can be a very bright future with the Pittsburgh Penguins.”
A magician with the puck on the ice, in recent days he’s been acting more like a spy off it evoking memories of the cloak-and-dagger defections of players like Alexander Mogilny, the Stastny brothers, and Sergei Fedorov, among others.
In July, Malkin filed a first letter of resignation with Magnitogorsk but team officials refused to give him his passport—preventing him from leaving the country.
Stuck and facing pressure to re-sign with Magnitogorsk, Malkin buckled and signed a one-year contract about two weeks ago while he began plotting his escape.
“He just signed it because he wanted to get it over with,” Brisson said. “But in his head he knew he was going to get his hands on his passport again.”
Last Saturday, Magnitogorsk arrived in Helsinki for a training camp and Malkin asked Barry to meet him at the airport.
With his passport in hand after entering the country, Malkin quietly gave his teammates the slip, connected with Barry, and went into hiding while waiting for the American embassy to approve a visa.
His location was kept secret to prevent team officials from tracking him down.
“He wasn’t really scared,” said Brisson. “He was just anxious.”
On Wednesday, his visa was granted and within a couple of hours, he and Barry were on a plane bound for the U.S.
Yesterday was his first day of freedom since the saga began.
“He had a great workout,” said Brisson. “We’re going to get him ready.”