The Evgeni Malkin mystery finally ended on Thursday as the ice hockey star surfaced in Los Angeles with his agents, five days after slipping away from his Russian Super League team during training camp in Helsinki, Finland and vanishing from sight.
Less than 24 hours after flying from Finland to the US, the NHL draft choice of the Pittsburgh Penguins' showed up, naturally enough, on a hockey rink. He skated with about 20 NHL players at the Los Angeles Kings' practice rink in El Segundo, trading passes and working out with players such as Rob Blake, Glen Murray, Chris Simon and Anson Carter.
"He got in a great workout today," agent Pat Brisson said.
"He's going to stay here for a while, until we can move forward with Pittsburgh," he said.
Malkin's next step is to try to get on the Penguins' ice for the start of their rookie camp early next month. Malkin's agents, J.P. Barry and Brisson of CAA Sports, are working with lawyers to determine when the second choice in the NHL's 2004 draft can join them.
"We have been informed by Evgeni Malkin's agents that Evgeni is now in the US," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said in the first statement by the team regarding Malkin's situation. "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."
The Penguins would have one of the NHL's best 1-2 center combinations with Sidney Crosby and the 20-year-old Malkin, often called the best player in the world not currently in the NHL.
Malkin agreed less than two weeks ago to a one-year contract to keep playing for his hometown Metallurg Magnitogorsk. The deal circumvented a previous deal that ran through 2008, and apparently was agreed to by Malkin under pressure during a late-night negotiating session.
After reworking that contract, with Russian agents who have long had ties to the Metallurg team, Malkin changed North American agents for the second time this summer in an attempt to get into the NHL immediately. Then, after arriving in Helsinki, he left his team, took his belongings and passport and joined Barry, and the two stayed hidden until a US visa was granted on Wednesday.
Malkin's agents had previously declined to reveal where he was staying to make certain the player remained safe. Malkin's disappearance was front-page news in Russia, where the Olympic team star is considered one of the country's top athletes.
Within hours of Malkin leaving his team, the North American agents faxed a letter of resignation on Sunday to the Metallurg team. Under Russian law, Malkin can quit his job by giving two weeks' notice, even if he is under contract. He had also sent such a notice last month, before he negotiated the new contract.
The Russian team has threatened to sue, though previous legal attempts by Russian teams to get back players who jumped to the NHL were thrown out of US courts.
The NHL has not publicly stated any support for Malkin, but deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league believes any player should have the right to choose where he wants to play as long as he is legally free to do so.