After Kovalchuk retirement, Malkin calls NHL ‘my priority’

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If there was ever any thought Evgeni Malkin might leave the National Hockey League for a return to Russia, he wiped it out on Thursday.

“Why would I look for something else? I have everything,” Malkin told Russian news outlet R-Sport. “[The NHL is] my priority.”

The 27-year-old Pittsburgh star was asked about his future after fellow Russian Ilya Kovalchuk stunned the league by retiring at age 30, with 14 years and $77 million remaining on his deal with the Devils.

Many suggested Kovalchuk was the latest, albeit highest-profile, example of the Russian exodus.

Winnipeg’s Alex Burmistrov also returned to Russia this summer, as did Nashville’s Sergei Kostitsyn (though, to be accurate, Kostistyn is Belarusian and returned to the KHL — not his home country.) Ruslan Fedotenko, who is Ukrainian, left the NHL to sign with HC Donbass, a KHL team located in his native country.

Malkin wanted to make one thing abundantly clear: Kovalchuk’s retirement wasn’t indicative of any trend, but rather a unique development.

“Ilya’s chosen this path, and I’ve got no right to judge him,” he explained. “They’re saying that this will become a trend, but it’s really an exception to the rule.”

Player agent Mark Gandler — who represents Burmistrov — earlier echoed Malkin’s sentiment, saying each decision is made independently and has nothing to do with an overall trend.

“I don’t think it’s an epidemic or anything like that,” Gandler told the Canadian Press. “I think each person makes his decision based on the circumstances that he’s in, based on his environment, his family, his upbringing.”