Tampering isn’t taken lightly in the NHL. It can cost teams financially or, in extreme cases, cost them draft picks.
So when Evgeni Malkin’s father told SovSport that the Dallas Stars “offered my son a bigger contract than Pittsburgh” when Malkin has never reached free agency in the NHL, eyebrows (and red flags) were raised.
It’s a serious enough charge that the Stars felt compelled to address it via Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News:
“We have seen the reports that have surfaced out of Russia claiming that we have tampered and they are completely untrue. The Dallas Stars organization respects and adheres to all rules and regulations set forth by the National Hockey League and any report that claims otherwise is false.”
Heika’s NHL source told him that the League isn’t looking into the charges because there’s been no aggrieved party that’s come forward about it.
Still, something smells … "off" about this situation.
Here are the facts: The Dallas Stars traded for Sergei Gonchar on June 7 and signed him on June 8 to a 2-year, $10-million deal.
This seemed odd because (a) it was nearly a month before free agency began, and Gonchar was the first player whose UFA rights were dealt in June; and (b) $5 million annually for Gonchar was a rather unusual amount given that he’s 39 years old and earned $5.5 million against the cap on his last contract.
Only one defenseman was given more money than Gonchar on AAV in the offseason: Mark Streit at $5.25 million, from the defense-starved Philadelphia Flyers.
Malkin signed his contract on June 13, inking an 8-year deal worth $76 million with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The contract begins in 2014-15. J.P. Barry, his agent, worked into the night on June 12 trying to get the deal closed.
Again, let’s revisit Papa Malkin and his SovSport comments:
“You know, Dallas offered my son a bigger contract than Pittsburgh. And Zhenya replied ‘No, I don’t want [to go] there.’ And that’s when the Stars had already signed Sergei Gonchar. His [Malkin’s] best friend [Gonchar] was there. Why not agree to go there?”
So here’s my Pelican Brief on this situation:
The Dallas Stars hoped talks between Malkin and the Penguins would go sideways. They sign Gonchar to be their power-play quarterback, but also understanding his relationship with Malkin. (If you think this thing doesn't happen, please recall Tom Gilbert as the Minnesota Wild's bait for Ryan Suter.)
Maybe it’s Gonchar, unprovoked or provoked, who mentions to Malkin that the Dallas Stars can offer him a max contract extension ($12 million per season) if he forces a trade to Dallas from the Penguins, making him a very wealthy player and getting out from under the Unofficial Sidney Crosby Salary Cap in Pittsburgh. Plus he gets to play with his mentor/buddy Gonchar, which is comrade-riffic.
Would any of this be tampering on the part of the Stars? They’d have plausible deniability even if they had a hand in it.
Would it be tampering on the part of Gonchar? Of course, if he’s under contract, but good luck trying to prove it.
The timing of things and Papa Malkin’s comments combine to make me a little suspicious of the whole thing. Maybe it was just wishful thinking on the Stars’ part or something more, but I’m inclined to think Gonchar and Malkin had a real Suter-and-Parise heart to heart about their future at some point.