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2012: Alexander Radulov returns

March 20, 2012

Radulov in the 2010 Olympics.

Back in August I wrote about an interview Ufa star Alexander Radulov gave with a Czech newspaper. This morning, Radulov released the tweet-heard-round-the-hockey-world: himself, on an airplane, apparently bound for NYC, then Nashville.

Mr Radulov is to be a Predator again. And the Nashville Predators are set to be a real Stanley Cup contender this time around. The Predators organization remains quiet on the Radulov front. Whether work in the NHL offices in NYC is required, what visas and contracts issues must be sorted out, we don’t know. Maybe he is just connecting via JFK? Surely, the business class seat he is seated in in the photo he tweeted, with “business” monogrammed at the top, an olive-looking branch below, couldn’t be more perfect.

Alexander Radulov, the KHL’s meteoric star, is a man on a mission. Even if only for the next three months, until he must return to complete the final year of his contract in the KHL, or so we believe, so Dmitri Chesnokov of Yahoo! has determined (I trust this man’s words). It was downright refreshing to read the comments from Shea Weber and Barry Trotz about Radulov. He isn’t looked upon as a pariah, a turn-coat or one seeking attention–but as a compatriot with a different plan. Again, playing hockey isn’t one-size-fits-all. There are different ways, different roads, for every player. Radulov abandoned a contract as a 20-something. 20-somethings make mistakes. They also demand more work mobility than anyone. Some on a grander stage than others.

The Predators have already been remarkably deep and resilient this season. They are playing an efficient brand of hockey. With their locked-down goaltending and defense (hey, remember a couple years ago when Anders Lindback was all the rage?) and their now more stout looking forward groups (those Kostitsyns, Fisher, Hornqvist, Gaustad, Erat, Legwand, etc) and now Radulov, are the Predators capable of defeating anyone in the playoffs? Maybe. It’s easy to forget (and shame on me) just who plays for the Predators and how great they can be).

The Western Conference is looking a lot different this year than in seasons past. It is refreshing to find the Blues in the playoff picture, along with Dallas. It is spooky to see the Sharks and the Kings outside the bubble, or playing to the 8th seed, much like the Capitals. And to see the Nashville Predators, an expansion club, surging, while still in the midst of uncertainty about Suter and Weber, is fantastic.

How does Radulov fit in? I am sure his reunion with the team is a scenario he’s played out 10,000 times in his head. I think the same must go for David Poile, Trotz and the players themselves. He is a Predator, always has been, always will be. He could have stayed in Russia as the NHL post-season began. But he elected to come to Nashville. While it might just be a money power-play, it speaks volumes about character, commitment and maturity. He could have waited until he was 27, gone UFA. But he didn’t. While it just may be for three months, it’s great to have him back.

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