Malkin awaiting Russian team's next legal challenge

A Russian arbitration panel ruled Pittsburgh Penguins rookie Evgeni Malkin violated his contract by leaving his Russian pro team to play in the NHL.

The ruling issued on Friday appears to be meaningless unless Malkin's former team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, can find a United States court to uphold the decision. The Russian Super League club also could sue the NHL or the Penguins.

Malkin, who was not represented at the Russian Ice Hockey Federation arbitration hearing, has one week to appeal the ruling to Russia's arbitration court for sports.

Neither the Penguins nor the NHL would comment on the arbitration panel ruling. Malkin declined to talk about it.

Malkin, a 20-year-old forward who starred for Russia during the Turin Olympics in February, said he was pressured into signing a one-year contract with Magnitogorsk this summer despite his avowed intention to play in the NHL. Malkin was the No. 2 pick in the June 2004 NHL draft by Pittsburgh.

Days after agreeing to the Magnitogorsk deal, Malkin skipped out on the team when it arrived in Finland for training camp last month and turned up a few days later in Los Angeles. He worked out there for several weeks before arriving in Pittsburgh for training camp nearly two weeks ago.

Malkin's agents, J.P. Barry and Pat Brisson, contend the forward followed Russian law by giving two weeks notice and resigning from his job. The NHL has allowed teams to sign players who exercise this legal option.

Because Malkin left Russia and is in the Penguins' camp, Magnitogorsk team officials have said they are resigned to losing him, but they apparently want to be compensated. The NHL and the Russian hockey federation have been unable to reach a transfer agreement that would pay Russian teams when their players leave for the NHL.

The transfer agreement between the NHL and Europe's hockey federations call for teams to receive $200,000 when they lose a player. Magnitogorsk argues Malkin's rights are worth at least 10 times that much.

The Penguins, Malkin's agents and the NHL are awaiting Magnitogorsk's next legal move. The Russian team could ask a U.S. court to uphold the arbitration panel ruling or sue either the Penguins, the NHL or both for compensation. Magnitogorsk has hired New York-based lawyer Alexander Berkovich to handle its case, reports AP.

Malkin is one of three NHL rookies who handed in resignation letters and left their Russian teams to play in North America this season.

The Russian arbitration panel ruled on Sept. 9 that Andrei Taratukhin of the Calgary Flames, and Alexei Mikhonov of the Edmonton Oilers, violated their Russian Super League contracts with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl when they resigned their jobs and left the team.

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