Penguins' forward Evgeni Malkin made his move back to Russia official Sunday, signing a one-year deal with the KHL's Metallurg Magnitogorsk, his former club.
Close friend and former teammate Sergei Gonchar also signed with Metallurg Sunday, and Monday he and Malkin were joined by Toronto's Nikolai Kulemin.
All three contracts run through the end of the KHL's 2012-13 season and are terminated immediately upon the end of the NHL lockout.
An amended KHL constitution has made room for its member clubs to add NHL-obligated players during the lockout, and it was thought that Sidney Crosby might join Malkin in Magnitogorsk after his camp spoke with Metallurg officials about playing in Russia.
However, according to SovSport's Pavel Lysenkov (via Puck Daddy's Dmitry Chesnokov), Kulemin's signing (unofficial at the time of publication) meant Magnitogorsk would have been unable to add Crosby to its roster.
Gennadi Velichkin, Metallurg's Vice President, told Lysenkov that his club wasn't willing to wait for players who are non-Russian citizens to pass customs and other immigration hurdles on their way to the KHL.
"We received calls from Crosby's representatives. They asked us about a hypothetical possibility of signing a contract with Metallurg. We said 'Why not?' But we never made it to the point of negotiations.
"I think Canadians and Americans won't leave for Russia starting tomorrow. They will wait. And to properly register those guys we would need around three weeks. And this is only to obtain a work permit for a foreign citizen. Don't forget about immigration services, work visas, Russian laws.
"We thought that we would not see any foreign born players on our team before the November Euro Hockey Tour break. And if we register them then, they would play five or six games and go back to the NHL when the lockout is over. It's a doubtful option, you should agree."
Kulemin's signing cemented that stance. Crosby, besides never having played overseas before, is a tremendous insurance liability given his $104.4 million contract and history of post-concussion syndrome. It would have taken great financial risks from both he and Metallurg to make a deal work, in addition to immigration and other clerical hurdles.
For Malkin, signing with Magnitogorsk was much simpler, if not perfectly risk-free. According to Pierre LeBrun, Malkin will still be on the hook for some hefty insurance premiums.
For KHL-bound Evgeni Malkin, for example, a source told ESPN.com that he’ll need to pay about $250,000 per year for two years’ worth of coverage on his $9 million salary, although it’s believed the premiums will be paid monthly and can be cancelled without penalty once the NHL lockout is over.
LeBrun also notes that the Penguins will have the right to suspend Malkin without pay if he misses any NHL games while recovering from an injury suffered in the KHL.
Malkin's deal with the Penguins runs through the end of the 2013-14 season. He will be eligible to be re-signed by the Penguins at the beginning of the next period of NHL free agency and is the reigning NHL MVP after leading the league with 109 points in 75 games last season.