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Author: Slava Malamud (Sport Express Newspaper)
Translated By: Sergei Chveitser
Date: 08/21/2006
Evgeni Malkin: Forgive and understand me (Pittsburgh Penguins NHL)

2007 Russian Super League

Evgenii Malkin skating for Metallurg Magnitogorsk (photo courtesy of Metallurg Magnitogorsk press core)
Malkin was humbled as he was posing for photographs. Standing in front of the ocean, the palms and an expensive hotel seemed to be too much for him. He complained: ‘They will start saying that I just came to rest on the beaches here’. There was nothing he could do though as Evgeni’s agents brought him to the luxurious Santa-Monica which is where Pat Brisson’s, one of Malkin’s agents’ office is located. It was also easy to organize a few practice skates with some NHL players who have taken a liking to the City of Angels during the summer not to mention the fact that the best experts in sports medicine are also located there.

The latter wasn’t just written for contrast. On Saturday morning, Evgeni visited a doctor. The injury turned out not to be too serious as it was just a slight muscle pull. Malkin was told to rest and apply ice to the injured area except there is no time for rest for Malkin right now. Malkin gave the big interview to Sport-Express right after his appearance on the TSN channel and more meetings with journalists were scheduled for later in the evening. It may be for different reasons, but both Russia and North America are craving to find out the story of the evader.

Our conversation took place at a hotel on the shore of the Pacific Ocean under the wondering looks from the locals who just couldn’t figure out why there is so much fuss about this young man who is the reason for all the lights and cameras in the hotel and because of whom, the best spot in the restaurant with the view on the ocean has been blocked off. Evgeni was ready to talk for as much as required. ‘For me, the most important thing is to explain what happened to the people in Russia, ‘ he said. ‘Some people probably support me while others badmouth me but either way the worst thing for me is to hide and stay silent’.

Malkin didn’t do either. He told the story behind the signing of the dreadful contract with Metallurg in full detail. By my personal impressions, Evgeni answered all the questions with full honesty although he didn’t handle some of them well. The questions were harsh as the Sport-Express correspondent tried to play the role of a detective but you will be the judge. Who is right? Who is at fault? Is anyone right in this at all? What would your actions have been if you were in Malkin’s situation? How about in Gennadi Velichkin, Metallurg’s GM’s position? What are the roots of the problem and how could all this have been avoided?

Everyone will have his or her own answers to these questions but now let’s give a word to Evgeni Malkin.

Magnitogorsk Negotiations

Let’s go back to the beginning of this story. As far as I know, at the end of last season you gave a two-week notice to have your contract annulled which signaled your intensions to leave for Pittsburgh. How did the team management react back then?
E. Malkin: I didn’t give that notice to Velichkin personally but instead, we faxed it and two days later he called me to his office and was very upset. He said: ‘That’s not the way to behave and don’t you ever do it again’ after which, he threw my letter in the garbage right in front of my eyes.

How did you react?
E. Malkin: I didn’t even know what to do. I didn’t want to start a conflict with Velichkin and didn’t see any kind of solution at all.

So you didn’t react at all?
E. Malkin: Of course I reacted. I said: ‘I hope we find some kind of compromise and that everything will turn out well’.

How did Velichkin explain his displeasure? You were saying that Metallurg promised to let you go to the NHL at the end of the 05-06 season.
E. Malkin: Yes, there were promises that they won’t try to convince me to stay and only said that they will leave a chance to negotiate meaning they would offer me some kind of contract so that I could decide what I want to do next on my own. I definitely didn’t expect any persuasions.

How did the events unfold on the day when you signed the new contract with Metallurg?
E. Malkin: It turned out that Viktor Filippovich Rashnikov invited us to his place at Bannoe, a lake near the city and the negotiations took place there. This happened on August 9th at 9pm (editor’s note: Evgeni mentioned that Metallurg announced the signing of the new contract on the 7th).

We all, including my parents all sat at the table and the negotiations turned out to be rather lengthy, about an hour and a half after which the parents and I decided to tell Viktor Filippovich that I won’t be signing the contract. In other words, we repeated that I still want to go to the NHL, that it is my dream and that this is what I want to do. We then all got up and went outside on the street, Viktor Filippovich said good-bye and left.

The negotiations resumed again, but this time they were outside on the street and with just Velichkin alone. At this point, he was starting to raise his voice and began acting totally differently. We spoke outside for about an hour.

What happened next?
E. Malkin: He then said that he will go to our home with us because there was a contract there and we would sign it anyway after which we went home and continued negotiating until half past two in the morning.

Who was at these negotiations?
E. Malkin: My parents, Velichkin, his assistant Kuprianov and my agent Ushakov... Basically I ended up signing the contract.

So, you declined Rashnkov...
E. Malkin: Please, don’t write ‘declined Rashnikov’.

Fiar enough, you said ‘no’ during the negotiations with Rashnikov while Velichkin managed to convince you. What were his arguments?
E. Malkin: He had many different ones. He said that we haven’t signed the transfer agreement with the NHL, that it would be inhumane of me to hand my two week notice in now and that if I stay, Tretiak would be able to sign the agreement with the NHL on better terms. These arguments were stressed the most.

‘You are going to kick me out of the house?’

It would be interesting to find out how confident you were that you won’t be signing the contract. After all, you called Barry (representative of the CAA Hockey agency firm) prior to the negotiations. What did you talk to him about?
E. Malkin: He said that if I really want to play in the NHL that I have to tell about it to Metallurg and to hang on and not sign the contract.

How did you respond?
E. Malkin: I said that I want to go to the NHL and that I don’t want to sign the contract and will try and withstand this pressure.

Was there an attempt from you to agree with Metallurg that you won’t sign the contract but will try and help them get compensation for you?
E. Malkin: I would’ve been happy to, but I knew for a fact that Velichkin wants 2 million for me and would never agree to anything else. He told me himself, so it was pointless in negotiating as the NHL would never agree to this and Velichkin wanted nothing less.

Let’s go back to the negotiations at your home. It’s not hard to calculate that they lasted about three hours, right?
E. Malkin: Yeah, we arrived home at around twelve. The negotiations were as follows... Velichkin came up to my mother and began pressuring her: ‘Convince your son that he has to sign the contract for the sake of the national team, we are paying him good money’ etc. All this time, I was trying to say something but nobody was listening to me: ‘You will play in the Superleague and that’s that’. From what I could see, they weren’t interested in my opinion at all.

This kind of treatment really hurt me. I even talked about leaving for NHL last year and promised that I would do so to Pittsburgh and Metallurg knew about it so I think I stayed true to my words while I guess somebody didn’t understand something in Magnitogorsk.

So the pressure came down to non-stop repetition of the same arguments over and over as well as pressuring your parents, right?
E. Malkin: I kept saying ‘no’ to all the arguments and so did my mother while father was leaning towards their opinion saying: ‘Maybe you will stay?’ I continued saying ‘no’ though.

In the end it turned into a ‘yes’ however. How did that happen?
E. Malkin: We ended up saying: ‘Let’s get back tot his tomorrow. Give us some time to think and maybe tomorrow we will sign’. Velichkin responded: ‘No, you have to do it now’. My mother disagreed saying that it’s too late now to which Velichkin told her: ‘Are you kicking me out of the house?’ Of course not, said mother at which point I understood that there is no point trying to explain anything because sooner or later he would’ve forced me to sign the contract.

Evgeni, excuse me, but it’s still hard to understand what was going through your head at the time. You clearly want to go to Pittsburgh and you know full well that with this signature you are declining your own wish or at least are complicating the situation. Yet, you are signing the contract and it sounds like the only reason you did so is because you got fed up with Velichkin?
E. Malkin: I didn’t get fed up. I signed because I wanted to stop this pressure and didn’t want it to continue every day. I had to practice and prepare for the season instead of endlessly arguing.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just say: ‘I don’t want to, end of discussion’ and leave the room?
E. Malkin: Everything was fine when we were at Rashnikov’s place. We came out, discussed everything for about ten minutes, came back and announced our decision. Rashnikov said it like this: ‘This problem has to be solved now and your decision today will be your final one’. So we made the decision, apologized, thanked for everything, but said that we want to leave.

While Viktor Filippovich understood everything though, Velichkin just doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘no’.

You still haven’t refuted my assumption that the only reason you signed the contract for is so that Velichkin leaves you alone. Is this true or not?
E. Malkin: I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just that it was very tough for me and I didn’t know how long this would continue. From the conversation I could see that they won’t let me go so easily. Even when there was talk that they need to receive compensation for me, I offered: ‘Lets solve this matter on good terms’ and they replied: ‘It won’t work out well on good terms. Either they will pay us two million or you will stay here. Otherwise there will be lawsuits but we will win in court and then you’ll end up nowhere’.

That night their pressure was even more intense. I saw how they tried to influence my parents and was worried about how they will talk with them if this goes on. Basically it was clear to me that they are ready to continue this for a very long time.

Ok, you are signing the contract at three in the morning to end this argument that you got tired of and Velichkin leaves. What happens right after this? What were you thinking about after he left?
E. Malkin: I was thinking that I will still definitely leave and felt insulted. When they called me the next morning, I didn’t even pick up the phone because I was tired of talking to them and didn’t want to do it anymore. They understood everything but made it seem like all is well.

Gennadi Ivanovich didn’t carry himself honourably.

So you got upset and decided that you will still leave as revenge.
E. Malkin: I don’t want to say ‘revenge’.

Ok, let’s rephrase it. For example: ‘You treat me like this? Then I will do this’.
E. Malkin: No, let’s not. I think everyone will understand me. It’s my decision and I made but I didn’t know how else I could have acted. I’m sure the guys will support me.

The day after you signed the contract, Sport-Express’ headline was ‘Why is Malkin Silent and Not Celebrating?’ So there was a suspicion that something is wrong and your refusal to give any interviews was only strengthening those opinions. Why didn’t you talk to the media?
E. Malkin: I just didn’t want to lie to the people. There would’ve definitely been questions about the upcoming season and why I chose the Superleague. I would’ve had to answer: ‘Yes, everything is great, I’m staying in Magnitogorsk and will spend the season here’ while I knew that I will leave anyway.

You knew it at the moment when putting your signature on the contract?
E. Malkin: Yes.

But if you knew all this, why didn’t you come to Velichkin on the next day and tell him that he treated you unfairly and hand him your two week notice?
E. Malkin: I saw what he did with my first two week notice. He just threw out and said: ‘Papers like this don’t exist for me’. I don’t think I could even do it... I don’t know... It’s hard for me to explain, but it was very tough for me to go to him with documents.

Evgeni, what does this all mean? Your explanations are hard to understand. Are you afraid of this man? Is it some kind of fear that you didn’t know you had?
E. Malkin: I’m not afraid. It’s just that during the last three years, this club and Velichkin in particular did so much for me and my family. When problems arose, and there have been many of them, he always helped and I owe a lot to him.

Understood: it was hard for you to overcome your sense of responsibility, not fear. Coming out and saying ‘no’ instead of running away behind Velichkin’s back would’ve been a much more honourable thing to do though, don’t you find?
E. Malkin: Of course it’s easy to sit here now, look at everything from a different perspective and re-think everything. At that time though...yes everything could’ve turned out much better...

I understand that you can’t take back what you did already, but Velichkin didn’t go anywhere and neither did Rashnikov or the Metallurg fans. They would all probably like to know if you are sorry about what happened.
E. Malkin: Of course I’m sorry, but what can I say...

Do you believe that you could’ve acted differently in this situation?
E. Malkin: Of course I do, but I want to repeat that Gennadi Ivanovich’s behaviour was extremely inappropriate.

Evgeni, personally, I don’t understand what was so hard for you although I’m not one to tell you what kind of fans Metallurg has and what feelings they have towards you. Many of them probably feel betrayed without even thinking rationally about any details.
E. Malkin: I understand that and really hope that as time goes by, they will understand that I didn’t want to upset them.

But why wait for time to go by? Imagine that you are talking with a normal Metallurg fan right now. Explain why he shouldn’t be upset.
E. Malkin: You see, last year I told everyone that I will leave for Pittsburgh and that this will be my last season. After the playoffs, I also said the same thing and that it is my dream that I want to bring to reality. The fans must’ve read about it and know what I wanted all this time. This has nothing to do with Magnitogorsk. I will always have the warmest feelings towards Metallurg and will always be proud of the fact that I grew up at a team like this. I really hope that they will understand and forgive me when everything falls in it’s place. I didn’t lie to anyone and always said that I want to play in the NHL this year and the guys understand everything and support me.

Have you talked to any Metallurg players?
E. Malkin: I talked with Evgeni Varlamov. Atyushov called and so did Pestunov. They all support me and say that I should do what I think is right.

Stepping aside from the investigation

The story about how exactly Malkin left Metallurg isn’t as important as the motivation and the situation that forced him to make this move. The escape in itself is also rather interesting though, so I present you with it to satisfy fans of all the genres: thoughts and feelings on one side and fights and chases on the other. Word to Malkin’s agent, JP Barry who made his client’s wish come true.

Evgeni, shortly before all this happened, you switched agents for the second time in three months and retuned to Barry and Brisson...
E. Malkin: Let’s not talk about this. No comment.

Fair enough, but at the time of the contract signing, your passport was still held by your former agent Sergei Isakov. Were you able to get it back without any complications?
E. Malkin: Isakov did have the passport at first because he was the one who got my Canadian visa, but then he gave it to Velichkin.

And when was that?
E. Malkin: Right when all this was going on, so around the 8th or 9th of August. I think Velichkin got my passport right after I signed the contract.

Question for JP Barry. How did the events unfold from your point of view? For example, what happened the day after Evgeni signed the contract?
JP Barry: I advised Evgeni to show willpower and not to sign the contract. Evgeni, from his point of view, really wanted to meet with Velichkin so that he could explain him everything eye to eye. He was probably naïve enough to think that from the 10th or 15th time, Metallurg would understand that they won’t be able to hold him back.

Everything ended up with him signing the contract. He called me and explained the situation during which everything happened. I was obviously unhappy when I found out what kind of pressure was applied to get the contract signed and of course I wasn’t in position to criticize what had happened. It’s pointless anyway. What’s done is done.

Who was the author of the idea to annul the contract?
JP Barry: I told Evgeni: ‘If you want to go to Pittsburgh, you will have to file a two-week notice to annul the contract. As a lawyer, I don’t believe it’s valid, but it should still be done just in case’.

Why did you consider it to be invalid?
JP Barry: According to American laws, a person isn’t obliged to follow the terms of a contract that they were forced to sign with the use of psychological pressure. ‘Psychological pressure’ can be interpreted in many ways, but in this situation, considering the people that Evgeni dealt with, I think the use of pressure is evident. In this situation, it would still be the right thing to do to declare the intensions to annul the agreement.

How and why was the idea to do this outside of Russia born?
JP Barry: We decided that we shouldn’t let this story repeat itself endlessly so it would be a better idea to annul the contract after leaving the team first. Evgeni said that it would be best to do it in Finland because his passport will be returned for this trip. I then contacted the American embassy in Helsinki and started the visa process for Evgeni.

You took care of the apartment too, didn’t you?
JP Barry: Yes, we rented an apartment and got a hold of some Finnish assistants who organized everything. When Evgeni passed the customs control, he saw us right away and approached us.

Did Velichkin see this?
JP Barry: I doubt it. The team was just going through the passport control and was picking up it’s luggage. These situations are always chaotic and it’s hard to look after everyone. Evgeni came up to us and we took him aside, went down the escalators and came out to the van that we had parked before which took us to the apartment.

It’s like some kind of James Bond...
JP Barry: Put it this way: our Finnish friends operated extremely effectively.

How tough was it to get the American visa?
JP Barry: This process is always difficult. We filled out all the forms, double checked everything, went to the interview at the embassy and provided all the necessary information that was requested by the embassy. Everything took about two days. We then sat and waited for a phone call to let us know that the visa is ready. We got the phone call on the third day.

Two days is an unbelievably short time to receive an American visa.
JP Barry: Most of the work was done ahead of time. All that was left to do was go through the interview in Helsinki.

A million from Bettman

Have you talked to Gennadi Ushakov, your co-worker in Russia?
JP Barry: We last talked with Gennadi about a week ago.

Was he aware of your plans?
JP Barry: No, we didn’t drag him into this. He lives and works in Russia and the atmosphere there is tough for an agent to do his work. We didn’t want to complicate his life and as soon as Evgeni expressed his will, I decided that I will be able to do everything by myself.

It’s known that this year, during the negotiations between the NHL and the FHR, Metallurg was offered a million dollars for Malkin. What do you know about this?
JP Barry: I would like to be the first to say that we as agents did not take part in these negotiations. Our job is the players so we find out these things from other people. But the situation was basically that without a transfer agreement, the NHL could make a special offer for any player. I heard talks about exceptions for certain players but don’t know exactly whether Malkin’s name was brought up or if it was about the first five draft picks.

In this situation, the information is as follows. The NHL is required to pay compensation for every European player who went overseas but ended up in the minors. Bettman offered to add up the compensations for all the Russian minor leaguers and add that to the standard $200,000 compensation to round it up to a million and give it to Metallurg for Malkin.
JP Barry: We know of many possible solutions including this one. This idea is one of the most creative ones and is by the way legal just like the others. I can say with confidence that this solution was very possible.

Do you know why Velichkin rejected it?
JP Barry: We found out from different sources that there are three teams in Russia that continuously reject al NHL offers. They are Yaroslavl, Kazan and Magnitogorsk. As far as I know, they weren’t happy with the amounts. In other words, one million dollars was simply not enough.

A lawsuit is most likely awaiting you now and it seems that you are prepared for it. Could you explain how exactly you are planning to present your arguments in court?
JP Barry: At first we have to work out a strategy. In situations with contract disputes, the employee’s side often has to react to the employer’s actions so it would be nice to first see what Metallurg is planning to do. Are they for example planning to prove that in this situation the Russian labour laws do not apply? We, by the way, are sure that they do apply.

Do you believe that this story will somehow affect the signing of the transfer agreement with the FHR and if so, then how?
JP Barry: I hope that it will now be clear that on one hand, you can’t keep young players from realizing their dreams and on the other, the NHL must pay a fair compensation. I really hope that both sides will find some kind of compromise. Nobody in the NHL believes that the players should come over for free, it’s just that there is no agreement on the specifics of the payouts. Should there be more money paid for stars and less for players taken in the latter rounds, for example? Today’s system balances everyone out and what you where you are being cut short in star players, you make up with the others. Not everyone likes this.

Metallurg should get compensated.

Evgeni, it’s been almost two weeks from the moment when you signed the contract with Metallurg. You spent some time in Finland and a few days in the States. How do you currently feel and what’s on your mind?
E. Malkin: I’ve settled down now. I read Bykov’s and Tretiak’s interviews in your newspaper and understood that these people don’t blame me, so my nerves have calmed down. I just began training and my agents are helping me get used to this place. Basically, everything is fine.

That’s about nerves, but what about emotions? Do things such as happiness, disappointment or guilt exist?
E. Malkin: I definitely don’t feel any happiness or guilt, but I feel slightly disappointed that things didn’t turn out the best way. As they say though, everything that’s done is for the best.

Do you believe that a return to the national team is possible? Perhaps you could take this opportunity to say something to Viacheslav Bykov?
E. Malkin: If they call me up, I will gladly come. I’m waiting for this call, especially because this World Championship will be in Moscow and we have a great chance of winning it. I will do everything in my power to make it happen.

Aside from a brilliant rookie season with Pittsburgh and a hundred goals, what would be the best ending to this story?
E. Malkin: For Pittsburgh to understand the situation and pay a fair compensation to Metallurg. I don’t know what would be a fair amount, but I hope they will agree on something. And of course the other thing would be for the fans to forgive and understand me.

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