Malkin, Gonchar practice with KHL club, “likely” to play next week

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Here’s a development that speaks volumes about the current state of labor relations…

According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin and Ottawa’s Sergei Gonchar are currently practicing with KHL club Metallurg Magnitigorsk and are “likely” to play in their first regular season game on Thursday, Sept. 20.

Rumors of the ex-Pittsburgh mates reuniting in Russia broke in early September, when the Ottawa Citizen reported Gonchar had a “standing offer” from Metallurg.

From the Citizen:

When Malkin received the Hart Trophy at the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas in June, he dedicated it to Gonchar. Malkin said that when he joined the Penguins as a rookie in 2006-07, Gonchar served as mentor, translator and cultural adviser.

“He took care of me,” Malkin said in his acceptance speech. “He’s a great guy and an unbelievable player. He’s my best friend here.”

Gonchar also played alongside Malkin with Metallurg Magnitogorsk during the 2004-05 NHL lockout.

The KHL season got underway on Sept. 4, and Metallurg has already played four games (posting a 1-1-2 record). The team boasts a number of players with NHL experience including Cal O’Reilly, Oleg Tverdovsky and Enver Lisin.

It should be noted that, as the NHL lockout became more likely, the KHL released a set of qualifications for incoming NHLers during the work stoppage:

– 150 NHL games played over the last three seasons

– Must have previous KHL experience

– A national team member in one of the last two World Championships, World Junior Championships, or Olympic teams

– A Stanley Cup winner or finalist or an NHL award winner of another kind

Malkin and Gonchar obviously fit the bill, and now one has to wonder what other qualified players might head to Russia once the lockout becomes official.