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Evgeni Malkin is said to have turned down a huge tax-free salary offer from his hometown KHL team to stay with the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
Evgeni Malkin is said to have turned down a huge tax-free salary offer from his hometown KHL team to stay with the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Kontinental Hockey League

Duhatschek: Lure of the motherland starts a Russian exodus Add to ...

The KHL wants to eventually be a viable option for the Ovechkins and not just the Filatovs, but for the moment anyway, it isn’t slicing too deeply into the NHL talent pool at the highest end.

“The real telling sign would be if you had an elite player that was North American born that left to play there,” Maurice said. “That, you never see.”

Maurice coached Malkin for a half-year in the KHL and said Magnitogorsk “would have loved to have him back and I don’t think money would have been an issue at all. They’ve got lots and they would have offered him that.

“Magnitogorsk is not Moscow and, during the lockout, Malkin could have played for any of those big-city, big-market teams. So I have a lot of time for the fact that he came back to play in his hometown,” Maurice said.

“The one thing I would take away from coaching Malkin is, he is an absolute pure performer. He worked his ass off in practice. He drove himself to be as good as he could be. Now, maybe I’m putting words in his mouth, but in his mind, the NHL is the best stage to push himself – and I think he loves that. I really do.”

Maurice was on the ground all of last year in Russia, which was divided into two distinct seasons – one in which the Russian NHLers were present, and the other after they disappeared. Through it all, hovering in the background, was the fact Russia would play host to the Winter Olympics in February of 2014.

“There’s a different dynamic there for those guys,” Maurice said. “In some ways, sport is almost all they have there, so it’s such a huge deal. When you think of the world championships, it’s viewed so much differently than we do in Canada. Everything is all about that tournament. My God, the Olympics this year, it’s so important to them.

“The players feel that. They do. There is a lot of Russian pride in those players, and that’s not a negative thing. For those guys, if you grew up in that town, that’s home.

“Now, they can be paid very well, live at home, be rock stars and if raising their families in that culture is important to them, it’s a viable opportunity. …

“But they do still aspire to the NHL. Their heroes are the great Russian players who’ve had success in the NHL. Everybody wants to be Malkin and Ovechkin, so there is still that draw.”

Follow me on Twitter: @eduhatschek

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