NASHVILLE – The speculation and rumors have been building in recent days, weeks and months about the potential NHL return of Alexander Radulov. With his KHL team, Salavat Ufa, eliminated from the playoffs, the speculation has snowballed. Radulov’s return to North America, the NHL and the Nashville Predators seems inevitable. Will it happen this season? It feels like the perfect storm.
(Before we get into why it makes sense for Radulov to come back, let’s get one thing out of the way: He would be welcomed with open arms and would be a welcome addition to the Predators lineup. He left on bad terms in 2008, under contract for one more year, but there are only six players remaining from the roster he turned his back on almost four years ago; two of them, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, were friends with Radulov.)
Considering his 2008 departure and attitude, there’s no guarantee that Radulov – 44 goals and 95 points with the Predators before defecting – will be donning the gold and blue in Nashville in the near future.
“Until I see the whites of young Radulov’s eyes I will not prepare for it, because that’s the ‘What if I win the lottery?’ type thing,” head coach Barry Trotz said Friday. “Anytime you can get a player of that caliber you would [welcome him back]. As I say, I’ve heard that for how many years now?”
But everything seems to add up for him to return soon. It makes too much sense.
Radulov has nothing left to prove in Russia. He won the Gagarin Cup with Salavat Ufa last spring. He has won two gold medals with Russia in the World Championships (2008 and 2009). Everyone knows he can dominate watered-down competition – 254 points in 210 KHL games – and if it’s his wish to dominate the KHL and be the star of the league for the rest of his career, so be it. However, the one thing he has yet to prove is his status as an elite hockey player. How does he prove it? By playing – and excelling – in the NHL.
As reported by Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov, Radulov added to the rampant speculation this morning after his team was eliminated.
After Radulov's club lost their playoff series today, a Q: Is Radulov staying in Ufa? Radulov: "No comments." (via SovSport)There is a big incentive for Radulov to come back now. If he waits until the off-season to come back, he will have to play all of next year in the final year of his entry-level contract worth $980,000. If he returns before the end of the regular season, the final year of his current contract will be fulfilled and he will be a restricted free agent in the summer.
Ufa fans say Radulov skated around after today's loss waiving to fans (something he never did before).Many think he waived "Good bye"
To go along with that, wouldn’t the Predators want Radulov to return now? He would assumedly be motivated between now and the end of the season, knowing that his play before and in the playoffs would determine his next NHL contract. GM David Poile couldn’t acquire a top-end forward at last month’s trade deadline, but Radulov returning with 10 games remaining, more or less, would essentially be a trade deadline acquisition.
Then there is the whole Weber and Suter factor. Suter has been vocal about wanting to see Predators management be active in trying to improve the team with another piece or two. Would Radulov be that piece that convinces the pair of defensive pillars to stay? If so, the flamboyant 25-year-old could go from being the most hated hockey player in Nashville to a hero for being the guy that kept the team’s foundation intact.
Above all else, Weber and Suter want to win. You think adding Hal Gill, Paul Gaustad and Andrei Kostitsyn made the Predators a better team? Adding Radulov to the mix – for nothing at all – would make them even more of a threat to come out of the Western Conference this spring. Some believe his is the final piece to their Stanley Cup puzzle. It would certainly give the Predators that much-needed offensive weapon that they have lacked over the years, especially in the postseason.
All of this is why the nonstop speculation surrounding his potentially-imminent return feels like the perfect storm.
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