The Pittsburgh Penguins aren't saying where Russian star Evgeni Malkin is, or when they expect to see him. What they do know is he isn't in Russia and, as far as they are concerned, that's very good news.
The Malkin mystery continued on Monday as the 20-year-old star remained out of sight after bolting from his Russian Super League team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, on Saturday after it arrived for training camp in Helsinki, Finland.
Malkin left with his belongings and passport and, possibly, a Canadian visa. Malkin's former Russian agent, Sergei Isakov, told the Soviet Sport newspaper Malkin had the visa before leaving for Finland. Malkin's North American agents, JP Barry and Pat Brisson, would not confirm that or say where Malkin is, though they believe he is out of harm's way.
"I can tell you I think he is safe, but I cannot comment on anything else," Brisson said.
Penguins vice president Tom McMillan said the team had no comment on any issue regarding Malkin, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 draft and the player widely considered the best in the world not currently playing in the NHL.
That could change by early next month, when Malkin -- now that he is out of Russia -- is expected to sign with the Penguins, if he hasn't already done so, and report to their rookie camp.
Malkin, along with 19-year-old star Sidney Crosby, would immediately give the Penguins one of the best 1-2 center combinations in the NHL and would likely hasten their rebuilding effort following four consecutive last-place finishes.
Only last week, Malkin renegotiated his contract with Mettalurg to trim it to a one-year deal, covering this season, from the two seasons remaining on his former contract. However, Russian law apparently allows any employee to leave a job, even while under contract, by giving two weeks' notice.
Malkin stayed in Russia last season after the country's hockey federation refused to sign a transfer agreement allowing players to leave for the NHL in return for a US$200,000 payment. Mettalurg said Malkin's rights were worth far more than that, and it want millions of dollars.
Mettalurg, for whom Malkin's father, Vladimir, once played, immediately threatened to sue the Penguins after Malkin abandoned them. However, former Russian stars Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals) and Nikolai Zherdev (Columbus Blue Jackets) left their teams in recent seasons for the NHL, and their Russian teams were unable to successfully sue for compensation.
"We all are really shocked by his departure and we will take legal action against the NHL club Penguins from Pittsburgh," Metallurg general director Gennady Velichkin told Itar-Tass news agency. "Americans like to speak about democracy and teach the whole world how to live but engage in sport terrorism and simply steal people."