Dave King on Evgeni Malkin’s departure from Magnitogorsk Metallurg:
When I left for home in the spring, it was a fait accompli — Malkin had done his time with us, he’d stayed a year longer than Ovechkin did; and he played his heart out for us. He was read to go to the NHL and would leave with our blessing. Or so I thought. Then, one day around midsummer, Velichkin (Magnitogorsk GM) came in and told me the good news; Malkin was staying after all. He’d signed a contract extension, under duress, in the wee hours of the morning, with all the members of the organization putting pressure on him to stay and playing the loyalty card to the hilt. They made it clear to Malkin that he owed them something. Of course, Velichkin didn’t tell it that way; I found out the details later on: in early August, in the middle of the night, with his mom and dad there after Rashnikov (Magnitogorsk’s owner) had flown back from Italy to meet with him one-on-one, and feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders, Malkin finally signed the contract. The next day they asked me to come into the office at nine or ten in the morning to meet with Malkin for a little talk. Thankfully, they left the room and there was just the three of us there — Malkin and me and Igor, the translator, whom I trusted.
I said, “Malk, how do you feel about coming back?” And he answered, “I don’t want to stay.” So I said, “If that’s the case, why did you sign the contract?” And he said, “There were so many people. I was confused. I know I owe the organization something.” All those things were weighing heavily on him. He’s just a young guy. I think he became overwhelmed by it all and signed. The next day he realized what he’d done and the mistake he’d made. So I said, “In this case here, don’t do what your head says. Do what your heart says. You should be doing what you think is right for you. Think this thing through. The season hasn’t started yet, so it’s not too late.”
Little did I realize how he’d take those words to heart. But a couple of weeks later, on our way to Finland, we stopped to play a game in Moscow against the new team, the Wings. I was standing in the corner of the crowded dressing room, watching all the guys and Malkin in particular, and he was absolutely in a trance. I could clearly see that he was thinking, Why am I still here, doing this? Not this again. He went out in the game and scored two goals and added an assist, but when he came off the ice there was zero joy in his eyes. Not a smile — and this guy was always smiling. I thought, This is not going the way he wants. I know his heart’s not here for sure.
After the game we all went to the airport and flew to Helsinki. The plane landed. We all got off and went to the luggage area to get our bags and go to the bus, and suddenly I saw people talking and waving their arms; there was a real commotion going on. So I asked Igor, and he said, “We can’t find Malkin.” Right away I thought to myself, Oh my gosh, he’s gone and done it. They sent Igor and Gennady back into the terminal to look for him, but Malkin had vanished. They couldn’t find him. He didn’t come through security to get his bags. Right around then a flight was leaving for New York, and we assumed that he’d jumped on it. Later, we found out that someone from his agency came and met him and he stayed in Helsinki for a few days in a safe house and then quietly flew over to North Ameria after we played the Tampere Cup.
Afterwards, a lot of people wondered what, if anything, we knew about the circumstances of Malkin’s flight. I didn’t have any inkling of it, but I remember talking to Varlamov, our captain…And Varly had a big smirk on his face. He said, “He’s going to the NHL.” All the guys knew it and not one guy was pissed off, upset, or even surprised. I think they all thought this was the right thing for Malkin — every player, to a man. I think they knew that he was pressured into a decision. There were smiles on everybody’s faces, as if somebody had put something over on someone. I thought, Did they know more about this than I did? The team just didn’t skip a beat.