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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Court Rules Malkin Free to Play in NHL

NEW YORK -- Evgeni Malkin was cleared to stay with the Pittsburgh Penguins after a federal judge denied a demand by Russian club Metallurg Magnitogorsk that he be barred from the National Hockey League.

Magnitogorsk, a Russian Super League team, claims that Malkin is under contract in his native country. The club sought a preliminary injunction that would have banned the forward from playing for the Penguins until the matter was resolved.

But the ruling Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska clears the way for Malkin, a first-year center with the Penguins, and minor leaguers Andrei Taratukhin of the Calgary Flames and Alexei Mikhnov of the Edmonton Oilers to remain with their NHL clubs.

Led by Magnitogorsk, Russian clubs sued in October claiming that the NHL broke U.S. antitrust law and improperly interfered in their business affairs by signing players who were still under contract.

A agreement brokered by the International Ice Hockey Federation calls for the NHL to pay a $200,000 fee when it signs European players, but Russian ice hockey officials declined to sign the agreement saying that it unfairly compensated them for their top talent.

Since then, the world's two top ice hockey leagues have been at odds.

In August, the NHL told its clubs they were free to sign contracts with Russian hockey players already under contract.

Malkin, 20, had just signed a one-year contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk when he abruptly left training camp in August to join the Penguins.

In retaliation, the Russian clubs asked the U.S. courts to issue an injunction barring the players in North America and returning them to their old teams while the case was fought.

Preska ruled that the Russians had not met the standard for a preliminary injunction. To do so, she said, they would have had to prove that the players' absence from the Russian league was causing their former teams irreparable harm.

The U.S. courts have generally found that the loss of a star athlete can indeed constitute such a harm, but Preska said that in this case, the Russian clubs appeared to be more concerned with wresting larger player transfer fees from the NHL than maintaining their competitiveness.

The ruling does not stop the case for good, but all but ensures that Malkin, Taratukhin and Mikhnov will remain with their NHL teams for the time being.

"Obviously we are very disappointed," said Alexander Berkovich, the attorney for the Russian clubs.

He rejected the notion that the dispute was about money, saying his clients were more concerned with winning than wringing dollars from the NHL.