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Where's James Bond when you need him...

It's amusing that the biggest story in hockey today doesn't appear on the NHL's website. Penguins draft pick Evgeni Malkin's sudden disappearance from his team's training camp in Finland has the Russians upset, Metallurg Magnitogorsk threatening to sue Pittsburgh, and his agents in a fix. In one sense, this looks like a flashback to the 1980's, when players had to be smuggled out from behind the Iron Curtain. These days, the barrier to escape isn't a totalitarian Communist state, but rather a team and league which wants their cut of the action before their greatest player heads to the Big Time.

Malkin's North American agents (today that's J.P. Barry and Pat Brisson, but who knows for how long) want to get their client on NHL ice as soon as possible, and the Penguins would love to have him in camp to develop alongside Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal. The Pens have an opportunity to build a potent young combination here, and while they don't want to be seen to be involved in this process for fear of burning bridges across the Atlantic, they have everything to gain.

Overseas, the Russian Hockey Federation refused to sign the transfer agreement with the NHL that would have set standard payments for players coming to North America, primarily because they wanted to negotiate higher amounts for star players such as Malkin. In Europe, they're used to players switching teams and countries in exchange for monetary payment, so the idea of letting players out of their contracts and head over to the NHL is just bad business to them. My guess is that Malkin shows up in training camp for the Penguins next month, precipitating a negotiation that introduces a more flexible, or graduated payment system between the NHL and the Russian Hockey Federation. Under the current setup of a fixed amount per player, situations such as this bring out the worst in all parties involved. Perhaps a tiered payment structure based on where the player was drafted in the NHL could help better compensate the home clubs for developing top talent, and also allow the players the freedom of movement they desire. 

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