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Blesk’s Alexander Radulov interview: talks Czechs, NHL

August 16, 2011

Alexander Radulov from earlier this season in the KHL.

Thoroughly enigmatic character Alexander Radulov gave an interview to Blesk today. The headline was typical of a tabloids, “I hate Czechs, but only on the ice!” Thanks!

Radulov’s KHL club Ufa played Kladno in the European Trophy, hence the interest and the interview.  They questioned his record on disliking the Czech Republic and his issues with Czech players (there are quite a few rivalries), which he said stayed on the ice. “I don’t care whom I am playing against, I always want to be number one.” He added, though, “I do not like it when I am playing against the Czechs. But for one reason. Because they are good.”

Not a bad compliment!

He is probably the most highly publicized player that left the NHL for the KHL, and they were sure to ask him about a potential return. It’s a hot-button issue. He toed the party-line he’s offered before, namely that “this season I definitely want to stay in Russia, where I have one year left on my contract.” At the end of that, he says he’ll sit down with his agent and family and review his options. It’s hard to pin him down on the hypocrisy here; after all, he’s matured since he left Nashville high and dry. His sudden respect for contracts could be a function of experience and time. That’s fine.

David Poile spoke with him and his agent, according to Radulov, and said “if you want to return, come on over.” When asked about the more lucrative pay-day, he seems to have changed his tune there, too. “Yes, money is good, but it’s not only about that. It’s about how good I feel where I am.”

Now, none of this is news from remarks he made earlier in the year. But at least we know he’s open to all possibilities, after he left Nashville after the 2007-8 season. He’s been very productive in the KHL and had great success. It’s entirely possible more seasoning was necessary, after two years in the QMJHL, he needed more. Not every star player follows the same formula or the same trajectory. Bowing out on a contract is a foul idea, but it happens.

The name “Radulov” still stings some folks, as it’s emblematic of all that’s wrong in the NHL-KHL relationship. And his case is still used as evidence of the “Russian factor” when it comes to the frightening unknown of whether NHL draft picks will report to training camps or indeed ever play at all. Now, the reasons for which Evgeni Malkin and Kirill Kabanov escaping their KHL contracts are not analogous to the reasons for which Radulov left. Radulov saw growth and promise in the KHL where Malkin and Kabanov saw limitations and uncertainty. And he saw money.

But again, there’s no “one-size fits all” approach to playing professionally. There are different motivating interests. Radulov wanted money. Radulov wanted to play at home. Those are not aspirations that should be dismissed. They don’t fit the the NHL mold. They are just something else entirely.

If I were in Radulov’s shoes, I’d be hugely nervous about dipping my toes back in the NHL waters. Expectations will be high. And would he even return to Nashville at all, or would they trade his rights? Poile seems willing to work with Radulov. But Nashville could be a very different place in one year, depending on if Suter and Rinne are resigned and if Weber elects to remain. Will it be a climate Radulov can jump back into? And what would it look like if he’d stayed?

I think it’d be exciting to have him back, but he’s done such a service to the KHL and become such a staple of that league it seems hard to imagine otherwise.

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