Russian ice hockey club Metallurg Magnitogorsk filed an antitrust lawsuit on Thursday against the National Hockey League and the Pittsburgh Penguins, saying rookie Evgeni Malkin shouldn't be allowed to play in North America because he remains under contract in his native country.
Metallurg Magnitogorsk, which filed the lawsuit in US District Court in Manhattan, also demanded unspecified damages from the NHL and the Penguins over Malkin's decision to leave his former club.
"We haven't seen a copy of the complaint yet so it would be inappropriate to comment," NHL spokesman Frank Brown said.
A spokesman for the Penguins did not immediately return a telephone message for comment.
The lawsuit said the NHL and its clubs have "decided to play hardball" with Russian clubs to punish them for the Russian Ice Hockey Federation's rejection of a new general agreement governing the transfer of foreign players to the NHL negotiated by the International Ice Hockey Federation in August last year.
The Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland agreed to the pact, which set compensation levels to the European teams losing players to NHL clubs based on a formula. The Russian clubs wanted to negotiate directly for the transfer of players to NHL clubs.
The lawsuit said the NHL told its clubs on Aug. 2 that they were free to sign NHL contracts with Russian hockey players already under contract with Russian hockey clubs if the players secured releases according to Russian labor law.
The 20-year-old Malkin left the Russian Super League team during August's training camp in Helsinki, Finland, slipping quietly into the US to begin his NHL career. In his NHL debut on Wednesday night, Malkin scored his team's lone goal in a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils.
Malkin was under contract for another year in Russia. The NHL previously 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.
After Malkin left his Russian team, he cited a Russian labor law that permits an employee to leave a job by giving two weeks notice.
The lawsuit, filed after a Russian arbitration panel ruled that Malkin is still under contract to Magnitogorsk, said the signing of Malkin to an NHL contract was a "blatant and deliberate tampering and interference" with the Russian team's existing agreement.
In the lawsuit, the team said the Penguins knew or should have known that Malkin was under contract to a Russian team when they signed him. The lawsuit said the NHL and the Penguins violated antitrust laws by conspiring in a group boycott and refusing to deal with Russian hockey clubs regarding player transfers.
Malkin and Magnitogorsk signed a one-year contract on Aug. 7, calling for Malkin to receive US$3.45 million, according to the lawsuit.
It said the contract was negotiated and signed in the presence of Malkin's Russian agent and his parents, and provided favorable terms allowing him to become a free agent a year sooner than an earlier contract.
Malkin, the No. 2 pick in last year's NHL draft, missed the early part of the NHL season after dislocating a shoulder in his first preseason game.