There's nothing like a good mystery to get through these dog days of summer, especially when it's a real-life story with some cloak-and-dagger twists.
|Malkin has gone through several agents during his NHL quest. (Getty Images)|
Over the last few weeks, the 20-year-old Malkin, drafted second overall behind Alexander Ovechkin in 2004 and expected to come to Pittsburgh this year, has hired and fired agents, gone AWOL from his Russian team's training camp in Finland and surreptitiously made his way to Los Angeles to skate with NHLers and wait for legal details to be worked out.
Oh, and before he went into hiding in Helsinki, Malkin signed a new one-year contract with Mettalurg Magnitogorsk, the team he is trying to leave. That deal was reportedly concluded at 3 a.m., under what the player has since described as extreme duress.
It's been a spy novel-ish tale, except that it has been marked more by a war of words and threats of lawsuits than anything John LeCarre could dream up. Not that long ago, East European players were kept home for political motives and propaganda, but this situation has been all about money, specifically how much Malkin's Russian team will get in compensation for his services.
The Russian hockey federation has not signed onto the transfer agreement the NHL has worked out with other European nations in June. That deal provides for a $200,000 payment to federations to distribute for each player jumping to the NHL, a sum the Russians claim is inadequate for their top talents. Russian teams want the right to negotiate transfer fees individually and directly, similar to European soccer practices.
There was some hope that the Russians would join the deal before an NHL-imposed deadline arrived two weeks ago, largely because former playing icon Vladislav Tretiak had been named president of the national federation. But Tretiak was unable to influence the organization's hardliners over the summer, prompting Malkin's advisors to make alternative plans to get him to Pittsburgh.
Heavyweight agent Don Meehan, hired after Malkin fired Pat Brisson and J.P Barry in June, let it be known that Russian law provided a loophole for his client, who was then under contract until 2008. The out was simply a two-week notice, but before it could be filed, Malkin dumped Meehan and re-hired Brisson and Barry.
During the transition, Malkin signed a new one-year deal with Mettalurg, doing so without any of his representatives in attendance. His new agents then filed the two-week notice, which Mettalurg officials claim is invalid because the fax is illegible. The agents also helped hide Malkin in Finland until getting the paper work necessary for him to enter the United States.
Mettalurg has described the actions as "sports terrorism" condoned by the NHL and said it will spend up to a million dollars to fight in court. The NHL and the Penguins have made limited public comments, essentially saying they only would welcome Malkin if he obtains his release.
And in the meantime, there are those drawing comparisons of this to the covert escapes of players like the Stastny brothers -- Peter and Anton -- and Alexander Mogilny in the 1980s and early 90s.
Makes for a nice story this time of year, but hardly an accurate one. Here's a look back at the defections that really were defections.
Stastny brothers in 1980: Peter Stastny, who was one of the league's premier centers during the height of Wayne Gretzky's era, and brother Anton had hoped to bolt to the Quebec Nordiques during the Lake Placid Olympics. But the plan was thwarted as there was tight security by Czech officials, but in a domestic tournament later that year, the brothers managed their escape.