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The legal squabble over Russian hockey player Evgeni Malkin has begun, with Metallurg Magnitogorsk saying the resignation Malkin faxed to the team this week was unreadable and therefore illegal.

Gennady Velichkin, Metallurg's general manager, told Russian media yesterday that lawyers have advised him the Malkin fax is unacceptable, meaning the 20-year-old forward did not properly notify the Russian super league team of his plans to depart.

Russian labour law allows even contracted employees to leave their jobs if they give 14 days notice. Metallurg received Malkin's fax on Monday. Two days later, Malkin surfaced in Los Angeles after securing his passport and leaving Metallurg's training camp in Finland.

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"My lawyers told me that the [fax]copy was not good," Velichkin was quoted as saying. "Several lines in it are not readable. . . . The lawyers are saying that this document is unacceptable. Even if we might assume that Malkin decided to ask for employment termination, then this has to be done legally correct. According to the law, Evgeni still has to work at least two full weeks, but he has been absent for five days already."

Velichkin was also quoted in Zhizn, a Russian newspaper, about a conversation he had with J.P. Barry, one of Malkin's two North American agents.

"When I told J.P. Barry that the notice is not readable and cannot be accepted as a document, Mr. Barry answered that they will write another one . . . 'and there is nothing you can do about it.' "

Barry could not be reached for comment yesterday, but he had said on Thursday he was consulting with lawyers versed in American and Russian law to ensure Malkin will be playing in the National Hockey League next season.

Velichkin promised to mobilize his own legal forces to ensure Metallurg is paid fairly for losing Malkin.

"I will do everything to battle for the rights of our club and all of Russian hockey," Velichkin vowed. "They think they can steal our players, that all the hockey world works for the benefits of the NHL. They steal the future [of Russian hockey] make big money on our players, but those who trained the players, babied them, will receive nothing. Nothing will stop [the NHL]until somebody will teach them."

The Russian Hockey Digest website reported yesterday that Velichkin had been given permission to spend Malkin's salary (more than $1-million U.S.) for legal costs.

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