Penguins, Malkin look to wrap up deal on Tuesday

PITTSBURGH -- Evgeni Malkin is about to become a Pittsburgh Penguins player.

Malkin has spent three weeks training in the Los Angeles area but is expected to sign with the Penguins on Tuesday -- two days before the start of rookie training camp.

Malkin's agents said last week they would open contract talks early this week, and the Penguins are planning a news conference Tuesday to announce the signing.

Malkin, the No. 2 pick in the 2004 draft, sneaked away from his Russian pro team last month in Finland so he could make a clandestine trip to the United States and begin preparing for his first NHL season.

Malkin's contract terms are effectively set by the NHL labor agreement, so he is expected to sign a deal identical to that reached by last season's rookie of the year, Alexander Ovechkin.

Ovechkin, drafted immediately ahead of Malkin, has a base salary of $984,2000, plus incentives worth $2.85 million per season. Ovechkin's contract includes $850,000 in relatively easy-to-reach incentives and another $2 million in additional bonuses such as winning a major league award.

Pat Brisson, one of Malkin's agents, said the negotiations would take "only a few minutes" because Malkin's deal would duplicate Ovechkin's.

Malkin, then 19, stayed with his hometown Metallurg Magnitogorsk team in the Russian Super League last season because there was no transfer agreement compensating Russian teams who lost players to the NHL.

When a proposed transfer deal fell through again this year, Malkin said he was pressured into signing a one-year contract with his Russian team. But after he bolted from the club on Aug. 12 in Helsinki, Malkin's agents faxed a letter of resignation to the Russian team.

Under Russian law, an employee can quit his job by giving two weeks' notice, even if he is under contract.

That two-week period expired more than a week ago, and Malkin's agents have been advised by lawyers they were free to negotiate an NHL contract for him. The Metallurg team has threatened a lawsuit seeking compensation if Malkin plays for the Penguins.

Ovechkin's former Russian team also sued after losing its star, but the case was thrown out of a U.S. District Court that cited a lack of jurisdiction in the matter.

Adding Malkin would be a major upgrade for the Penguins, who have finished last in the Atlantic Division for four consecutive seasons. Malkin could team with 19-year-old Sidney Crosby to give them what figures to be one of the best 1-2 center combinations in the NHL.

Malkin, often called the best player in the world not currently in the NHL, had two goals and six points for Russia during the Torino Olympics in February. He led the Metallurg team with 47 points, including 21 goals, in 46 games last season.

Malkin's parents, who remained behind in Magnitogorsk, told the Russian newspaper Zhizn last week they may have to relocate to another city because of harassment received following their son's departure.