The notion that the Nashville Predators are somehow cheating or otherwise breaking the rules by repatriating Alexander Radulov from Russia’s Continental Hockey League – something that is expected to occur by the end of the week, according to Russia’s Sport Express - is positively ludicrous.
For starters, the Predators are the injured party here. Radulov left them in the lurch some four years ago, not the other way around.
The 25-year-old Radulov, frequently referred to as the best player outside the NHL for years now, was under contract to the Predators when he decided at the start of the 2008-09 season to join the KHL as the face of the fledgling league, which arose out of ashes of what was previously known as the Russian Super League.
Radulov was set to earn a modest $980,000 in the NHL. His compensation in Russia would be significantly greater, and tax free to boot.
To play in his homeland, at a time when there was immense political pressure on Russian-born NHLers to come home, was too great a temptation for him to resist - and even as he left, he wavered, going back and forth, not sure what to do, until he finally did go, and left for four years.
But deep down, the Predators and coach Barry Trotz always figured Radulov – who’d been a star in the Quebec Junior League playing for Patrick Roy on the Quebec Remparts - wanted to return to the NHL. They thought Radulov’s competitive instincts would eventually trump all – and that he wanted to be great in the best league in the world.
And whether he’s a Predator for life or for a year or maybe just a few months is a moot point.
The fact that such a dynamic talent is coming back to the NHL for a Stanley Cup push is not a bad thing – unless you happen to be the Detroit Red Wings or St. Louis Blues or whoever happens to run into the Predators in the playoffs.
But there is risk on Nashville’s side too. There are no guarantees that Radulov will be a good – or easy fit. He’ll be readjusting to the smaller ice; and to a team that has virtually completely changed over since he last played in the NHL.
The Predators, a team that is usually greater than the sum of its individual parts, added a handful of new pieces at the trading deadline, risking the possible disruption of team chemistry to improve the overall talent base and add the depth that teams need if they want to make a deep playoff run.
The Predators only have a handful of players left from Radulov’s first stay with the team – including defensive stars Shea Weber and Ryan Suter – but they have both been consulted about his imminent return and would welcome him back. If the Preds can get the paperwork taken care of, Radulov could be back playing by the end of week, maybe even Thursday’s date against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The other day, Trotz spoke glowingly of Radulov’s competitive streak and his passion for scoring goals, something the Predators have been doing by committee for more years than they can count. If they now get a game-breaker into the lineup, someone who can pull out a close, low-scoring playoff game, that may be the difference between a short-term playoff stay and long playoff run.
Ultimately, if the Preds cannot sign Radulov long term because of their desire to get Weber and Suter signed to extensions, well, there’ll presumably be a number of NHL teams willing to take Radulov’s rights off their hands – for a price of course. Say the Montreal Canadiens maybe?
That’s how it goes these days. And if Radulov’s return makes Nashville better in the short term, and gets them set for a deeper playoff run, then burning off the final year of a now seven years long entry-level contract makes sense on every level – business and competitive. It is risky, yes, but when you’re Nashville and you’ve waited a dozen years for something big to happen, well sometimes, you need to take a great risk to earn a great reward.