Several NHL general managers clearly were not all that pleased.
But unlike many of the rule changes being deliberated this week at their semi-annual meetings, the return of Alexander Radulov was not up for debate.
If the Russian winger wants to return to the Nashville Predators in time for the playoffs – which word has it he does – he can, much to the chagrin of the team’s Western Conference rivals.
And make no mistake: his arrival could have a significant impact on the playoff picture.
After all, in the four years since Radulov skipped out on his entry level contract, he has quietly become the best player not in the NHL, leading Russia’s KHL in scoring the past two seasons – including by a 15-point margin a year ago.
A 26-goal man when he left North America as a 21-year-old in 2008, he is now a game-breaker – and he’d be joining a team tied for the fifth-most points in the league.
It’s no wonder Preds GM David Poile had a bigger smile on his face than any of his peers as he picked through the lunch buffet here on Tuesday.
“Whether it’s today, tomorrow or next year, I’m convinced that he’s coming back to the NHL,” Poile said. “If [it]happens [now] that would be great. Great for our franchise.”
Not so great for a few of the teams around them in the standings, including the St. Louis Blues, whose GM was one of the more outspoken ones when it came to the frustration of what essentially amounts to a CBA loophole allowing Radulov’s return at a fraction of his relatively meagre salary.
While the NHL has rules to prevent teams from “parking” players in Europe and bringing them over for the playoff drive – as the Edmonton Oilers did with flashy Finnish defenceman Reijo Ruotsalainen in the late 1980s – Nashville has had Radulov under contract and been awaiting his return for years.
Where the loophole comes in for Radulov, however, is he was able to essentially wipe out almost one-third of his entry level contract, which comes with a capped base salary of just under $1-million (U.S.).
In the KHL, meanwhile, it’s believed he earned at least $3-million a season.
“I understand it from Nashville’s perspective, that they didn’t initiate this,” Blues GM Doug Armstrong said. “The difficult part is from Radulov’s perspective [is]he did. He gets his cake and eats it, too. … From Radulov’s point of view, he wins on all fronts.”
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, however, insisted there was little the league could do to prevent Radulov from parachuting into the playoff race.
“It’s been black and white for us,” Daly said. “We’ve consistently taken that position for every player who’s gone AWOL on his [contract]
“I don’t like it. I don’t like the fact the player owes a full year under the contract, but ultimately the club didn’t have to take him back if they wanted to insist [he play]the full year. It’s within their right to do it. But that judgment’s going to be Nashville’s judgment, not the league’s.”
That call isn’t a tough one for the Preds, however, as this is a franchise betting big on making a Stanley Cup run in the hopes of convincing its two franchise defencemen – Shea Weber and Ryan Suter – to sign long-term.
Poile already added three key bodies near the trade deadline in Andrei Kostitsyn, Hal Gill and Paul Gaustad, beefing his lineup up more than most of his counterparts.
Radulov may just be the piece that puts his team over the top – and the best part is, he won’t cost a thing to add to a roster that has already scored more goals than all but three other Western Conference teams.
“We’re all-in,” Poile said. “We’re all in from the three trades we made, trying to show the Suters and the Webers our owners are behind us.”