December 29, 2011
For its 2010-11 Dominion Hockey set, Panini America placed NHL stars Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk together on an All-Decade card to commemorate the Russian quartet's domination during the Aughts.
The company sent some cards to the players for autographs, creating an instantly valuable keepsake for any collector. Ovechkin signed his set first and returned them. What happened next adds to the whimsical legend of Geno Malkin:
After Ovechkin returned the cards to Panini America, NHL acquisitions specialist Alex Carbajal sent the cards to Malkin. He signed his allotment but also took the liberty of inscribing a few personal notes (in Russian, no less), to Datsyuk and Kovalchuk.
His message to Datsyuk: "How are you?"
His message to Kovalchuk: "Smile"
Undaunted, Kovalchuk had a one-word retort for his fellow countryman: "Relax!"
He didn't have time to add "you can always get your coach fired if you need to!"
Panini is trying to figure out what to do with these conversational cards created by goofy Russians. Our suggestion to have us hold them until a decision is made was apparently rejected.