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Russian league eyes Malkin

Several teams in Russia's revamped pro hockey league want to repatriate NHL all-star Evgeni Malkin by offering him a contract that would make him hockey's highest-paid player – by a wide margin.

In a move that would surely send a shock through the NHL, whose executives are gathered today in Ottawa for the amateur player draft, the Russian teams are poised to offer the Russian-born Pittsburgh Penguins forward a multi-year contract worth at least $12.5 million (all figures U.S.) tax free per season, said a source familiar with the matter.

The offer would be equivalent to at least a $15 million per year in the NHL, where players have to pay state (or provincial) and federal taxes.

By contrast, Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin is the top-paid player in the NHL at just under $9.6 million a season.

"Hey, we can afford to pay more than the NHL right now," a high-ranking executive with the Russian league told the Star this morning. "Our economy is commodities-based so we're not going through the same problems that you have in America."

The executive said a $12.5 million offer to Malkin "is not crazy" but conceded, "it's on the edge of crazy."

Malkin is one of the NHL's top young stars. This season, his second in the NHL, he scored 47 goals and added 59 assists in 82 games with the Penguins and was the runner-up to Ovechkin for the most valuable player trophy. The power forward was also an all-star and was paid a base salary of $984,200, a year after winning the NHL's rookie of the year award.

Malkin also has an endorsement contract with Canadian hockey company Bauer, which is negotiating a possible sponsorship agreement with the new Russian league, a source said.

If Malkin decided to return to Russia it would be a move reminiscent of Bobby Hull's defection from the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks in 1972 to the World Hockey Association's Winnipeg Jets. The Jets agreed to pay Hull $1 million over 10 years.

The new Russian league, known as the Continental Hockey League, has turned to the likes of former NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow to develop a strategy for competing against the NHL. It's a rivalry that seems certain to turn nasty.

The Russian league executive confirmed teams have already started to offer contracts to some players who are already under contract to an NHL club.

And while the Russian league will use a salary cap to control player expenses, the salary of a player who quits an NHL contract to play in Russia won't count against their cap.

A Russian league official brushed off suggestions that the NHL would legally contest such contract offers.

"What happened with Malkin when he came to the NHL?" the official said.

After the Penguins drafted Malkin in 2004, he remained in Russia, where his club team argued he had an existing contract. After Malkin left for North America, his team unsuccessfully filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NHL, arguing he had an existing contract in Russia.

The new Russian league is scheduled to start its season Sept. 2

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Guest Low Roller
And while the Russian league will use a salary cap to control player expenses, the salary of a player who quits an NHL contract to play in Russia won't count against their cap.

That's just dirty...

The Continental Hockey League will not be any sort of competition for the NHL in North America, but it will be a lot harder to keep Russian-born players especially if you try to have them go through the North American development system before they play in the NHL.

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Good luck to the Continental Hockey League. If they want to entice players with over the top salaries, then so be it. They're not doing anything illegal. If there are contracts being "broken" then that's a matter for the courts. Owners will have to get creative in their contract offerings in order to ensure that their players remain.

So, there's a possibility that there will be fewer top-tier Russian players in the NHL? So what? Yes, I enjoy watching their talent on the ice, but are you telling me that there aren't enough other players, from other countries, that can't provide just as much entertainment value?

A player who quits to play in Russia should totally be held accountable for their remaining contract term. If a Russian club is encouraging them to 'defect' to their league, they should payout the NHL club that owned the contract. Why should that player's salary still be held against the NHL cap? They must put into place some sort of stipulation that if a player goes, that they can't return to the NHL for a certain number of years, otherwise this could be used as a cheap way out for NHL franchises to unload players with long contracts (eg. Ovechkin, etc.)

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