Malakhov makes quiet debut with Devils

Originally published on in 2000

By Lucas Aykroyd

Vladimir Malakhov disappeared and was unavailable to speak with the media after his debut with the New Jersey Devils in a 5-2 road loss to Vancouver on 4 March. That was appropriate, since the veteran Russian defenseman was scarcely visible during his 17:17 of ice time, except for a two-minute interference penalty he took 8:39 into the game.

It’s a familiar story for Malakhov. At 6-4 and 230 pounds, he has all the physical tools to be a dominant NHL blueliner. His international exploits include winning the gold medal at the 1992 Albertville Olympics with the CIS team. But the 31-year-old native of Ekaterinburg always left fans, teammates and coaches wanting more during his eight-year career with the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens.

Malakhov can’t be considered a total disappointment, though, as he was originally drafted in the 12th round (191st overall) by the Islanders in 1989. His peak on Long Island came with a 57-point campaign in 1993-94. When his production fell off the next year, he was shipped to Montreal along with another traditional underachiever, center Pierre Turgeon. Malakhov became the Habs’ top defenseman when he was motivated and healthy. But after a 55-game layoff due to a knee injury, Malakhov sparked the ire of Montreal fans when it was discovered he’d taken his young son skiing toward the end of his rehab. This violated the terms of his contract, although he claimed he didn’t hit the slopes personally. The Devils acquired him from Montreal on 1 March in exchange for Josh DeWolf, Sheldon Souray and New Jersey’s second round choice in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.

With no points in eight games this year, is Malakhov’s career going downhill? The Devils hope not. He is expected to relieve some of the pressure on Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski, who currently quarterback the New Jersey power play.

Captain Scott Stevens said: “Hopefully, coming here he’ll get a fresh start, fit in with our work ethic and be the player he can be. I don’t know what the situation in Montreal was, but I know he can play the game.”

Assistant coach Viacheslav Fetisov added: “He’s got all kind of talent. He has size and a great shot. I know he’ll play hard for us. He’s got to get comfortable here, and I’m going to work and help him with that. Right now, he’s got lots of pressure on his shoulders. The most important thing is that he grew up with the Red Army club. He knows what it takes to be a winner and how to be part of a winning team.”

Fetisov, 41, intimated he might be interested in making a return to the playing ranks after his coaching contract expires next season, so Malakhov may get some competition from one of his childhood heroes.

General manager Lou Lamoriello confirmed Malakhov passed his physical “from head to toe,” and his knees are fine.

Malakhov may respond well to returning to the New York area. It’s a chance for him to get away from the Montreal boobirds. Also, he met his wife Ludmila in the Big Apple, where she models. So, it’s a homecoming of sorts.

Having sorted out a routine hassle with immigration papers, Malakhov will now look forward to showing up more often on the scoresheet as the Devils try to retain their berth atop the Atlantic Division en route to the playoffs. There are no guarantees, but New Jersey may have added the final piece to its Stanley Cup puzzle. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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