Escape to L.A.
By Karen Price
Friday, August 18, 2006
ST. CATHARINES, Ontario - Missing Russian hockey star and Penguins prospect Evgeni Malkin surfaced in Los Angeles on Thursday -- five days after disappearing in Helsinki.
Malkin, whose whereabouts had been unknown ever since, flew to Tinseltown late Wednesday night with agent J.P. Barry and Olga McQueen, a Russian interpreter.
Turns out, Malkin, 20, was in Helsinki all along, waiting for the U.S. Embassy to reopen Monday after being closed for the weekend. He finally was able to get the necessary paperwork from Moscow and secure his visa Wednesday, and he boarded a plane that night.
"He has a visa. He's here legally. He's fine," said Pat Brisson, another of Malkin's agents who is based out of Santa Monica, Calif. "We don't have to hide him. He'll be (in Los Angeles) for a little while. It will be his home base until we move forward."
Malkin's disappearance became a matter of international intrigue after he left Metallurg Magnitogorsk, his Russian team, without warning just days after signing a new one-year contract.
His agents knew where he was, but they weren't talking, except to say that Malkin was safe and that they were in constant communication.
"If we tipped anyone he was there, it would have confused the issue," Brisson said. "People would have been trying to convince him to change his mind. He's been through enough."
One of the biggest mysteries surrounding Malkin's disappearance was why he would sign a new contract with Magnitogorsk only to leave days later.
Fellow Russian and Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review earlier this week that he believed Malkin was pressured to sign.
Brisson revealed yesterday that the team's general director, Gennady Velichkin, held Malkin's passport after he gave his two-weeks notice to terminate his employment with Magnitogorsk in July.
"They didn't want to give it to him," Brisson said.
Once he inked the new deal, Malkin retrieved his passport to travel with Magnitogorsk to Helsinki, and he met Barry there.
Magnitogorsk coach Dave King told radio station The Fan 590 in Toronto that Malkin disappeared when the team arrived.
"At the airport in Helsinki, somehow we lost him," King told the station. "It's no surprise to the coaches. We all knew that Evgeni really, really wanted to go."
Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported that Velichkin said he received an illegible fax from Malkin -- again giving two weeks' notice Sunday -- and that he suspected someone other than Malkin signed it.
Velichkin has threatened to sue the Penguins and the NHL and has criticized the effort to lure Malkin to U.S. as "sports terrorism."
Brisson said yesterday that there were no lawsuits pending, but Malkin is preparing for that possibility.
"We're moving forward with our own strategy," Brisson said. "We're working on it, but right now, there's nothing eminent."
Brisson said he wasn't sure when Malkin would be making his first trip to Pittsburgh.
"It all depends," he said. "As soon as we can do a deal."
Brisson said he told Penguins general manager Ray Shero that Malkin was in the country but said there was no timetable to begin contract negotiations.
The process shouldn't take long, however, because entry-level contracts are capped at $984,200 under the terms of the league's collective bargaining agreement. But Malkin can make up to $2.85 million with various performance bonuses.
"We have been informed by Evgeni Malkin's agent that Evgeni is now in the United States," Penguins general manager 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."
Several NHL and players' union officials declined to comment on the Malkin situation.
Los Angeles Kings officials, however, confirmed that Malkin skated yesterday at the team's Toyota Sports Training Center in El Segundo, Calif., along with NHL players Rob Blake, Anson Carter and Mathieu Schneider.
"A group of NHL players come here every summer and rent the ice on their own," Kings spokesman Jeff Moeller said. "We can confirm that he skated here with them today, but that had absolutely nothing to do with the Kings."
He referred all further questions to agent Brisson, who also represents Anson in his free agent negotiations.
"(Malkin) looked good," Brisson said, adding that Malkin would continue to train on and off the ice while staying at a hotel in the Los Angeles area. "He had a good skate."
Penguins players were looking forward Malkin's arrival in Pittsburgh.
"We kind of heard that around here, that he was coming," Penguins left winger Ryan Malone said from Minneapolis, where he's finishing pre-camp workouts. "It's great, because we're getting a world-class player. The Penguins are really setting us up for success.
"We're very lucky. He's so young, and Sidney (Crosby) and all of us will be a main group of guys who are planning to be here for awhile. Now, we get to start working to bring the (Stanley Cup) trophy back to the 'Burgh."
Karen Price can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
I need to head over there and check this kid out. I can't believe he here in LA.