The feud between Vladimir Malakhov and Montreal Canadiens head coach Alain Vigneault exploded into the open yesterday with the revelation that the injured defenceman had gone skiing.
Malakhov, who hasn't played a game this season because of a torn knee ligament, was spotted at the Mont-Tremblant ski area north of Montreal last weekend during the National Hockey League all-star break.
The Canadiens suspended his pay retroactive to Feb. 5.
Malakhov practised with the team yesterday and may play his first game of the season tonight against the Ottawa Senators.
Vigneault has been reluctant to make his doubts about Malakhov public until now. The pair have sparred off over issues such as commitment to the team and the seriousness of injuries.
Vigneault made it clear yesterday that he wants Malakhov traded and said as much to general manager Réjean Houle, who is scouting players in Europe. "I told Réjean about my feelings," Vigneault said.
Malakhov will become an unrestricted free agent this summer, which has led to speculation that he was destined to be moved by the NHL trading deadline of March 14 in any event. In order to be traded, however, Malakhov must show that he has recovered fully from knee surgery through game action.
Malakhov and Vigneault crossed swords over the defenceman's return in the past week. Vigneault felt the player could have come back before this weekend.
It still isn't clear if Malakhov will play tonight, although he pronounced himself ready.
"He has to knock on my door, then we have to ask the doctor for the green light and then we'll make a decision," Vigneault said. "[Malakhov]hasn't knocked on my door. Maybe he didn't have time [yesterday]"
Vigneault confronted Malakhov on Thursday after the team was told that the player had been spotted at the ski area with his family. Malakhov admitted he had been skiing, but said he was on the easier slopes with his son.
Citing a clause in his contract that prohibits him from skiing, the Canadiens suspended Malakhov's pay. It will be reinstated when he plays again.
After practice yesterday, Malakhov insisted he did nothing wrong, although he did not indicate that he would appeal the suspension.
"I didn't do anything dangerous," he said. "I do things more dangerous than that on the ice in practice. I'm not that stupid to risk missing another year. I ski every year. I skied last year, the year before and the year before that.
"This time I got caught. But I wasn't the only one. Today, I'm the villain, but I've had it up to here with all these stories."
The hint that some of his teammates were also skiing may cause unrest in the Habs' dressing room.
Team captain Saku Koivu supported Vigneault's decision.
"I think they have all the reasons to do it," he said. "Maybe it wasn't the smartest thing to do. I don't think it was right for the guys -- in one way I don't think he should have done that. But at the same time, nothing happened."
Fellow Russian Igor Ulanov supported Malakhov.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with that," Ulanov said. "It's family time. He's been working hard. I don't think it's that big of a deal."
The Canadiens have picked up goaltender Eric Fichaud on waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes. This gives them the option of protecting both of their current goaltenders, Jeff Hackett and José Théodore, in the expansion draft in June.