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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Annals of Cold War II: Russia Declares War on NHL

Russia appears to have gone stark raving mad with self-destructive, hate-mongering Cold War frenzy, now accusing the U.S. of "sports terrorism." Can you imagine how Dubrovkized, Beslanized Russia would react if America used a word like "terrorism" to describe Russian athletic activities? This is classic Sovietspeak, unsettling in the extrme. Reuters reports:

Russia has declared an all-out war on the National Hockey League (NHL), accusing the North Americans of stealing its best players.

Russian hockey officials were up in arms after several top players, including teenage prodigy Evgeni Malkin, the Pittsburgh Penguins' number one pick in 2004, walked out on their contracts with Russian clubs to pursue a career in the NHL.

The Malkin case has been front-page news on both sides of the Atlantic since the young Russian secretly left his club Metallurg Magnitogorsk at Helsinki airport earlier this month.

Malkin, considered the best player in the world outside the NHL, vanished for several days before resurfacing in the United States last week and declaring his wish to play for Pittsburgh.

"This is pure sports terrorism," Metallurg general director Gennady Velichkin told Reuters following the sudden disappearance of his best player.

Velichkin said his club had already hired an American lawyer to look after their interests. Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and Russian champions AK Bars Kazan said they also planned legal action against NHL clubs.

Lokomotiv are seeking compensation from the Edmonton Oilers and the Phoenix Coyotes

after losing their best forwards, Alexei Mikhnov and Andrei Taratukhin, while Kazan also accuse Phoenix of poaching their top player, Enver Lisin.

Russian clubs received backing from the country's hockey chief Vladislav Tretyak and Sports Minister Vyacheslav Fetisov.

DISGRACEFUL OFFER

"We can't just sit around and do nothing while the NHL takes our best players," Tretyak told local media.

But the NHL said it would not negotiate compensation packages with any Russian club after the European nation refused to sign a transfer agreement with the North American league.

Russia remains the only major hockey power not to join the deal, approved by the International Ice Hockey Federation in 2005.

Under the agreement Metallurg would have received a basic $200,000 fee for Malkin. The Russian club reportedly wanted at least 10 times more.

Tretyak said the Malkin case was the main reason behind their decision not to sign the agreement while the Metallurg boss slammed the offer as "disgraceful."

Malkin has faxed a letter to Metallurg, asking them to annul his contract, which he said he had signed under pressure.

Velichkin denying putting any pressure on Malkin.

"He talks about pressure. What pressure?" Velichkin said.

"You can ask militia (Russian police) about pressure. Pressure is when they bang your head against a wall radiator.

"As far as the letter he faxed to us, it wasn't written by Malkin so I think it's a pure fabrication. I just threw it in the garbage can."

Asked about the sum he was seeking for Malkin, Velichkin said: "Before his disappearance I was asking for $2 million from Pittsburgh but now I want more, a lot more."

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