Week of The Returning Player
BOCA RATON, Fla.--It appears Sidney Crosby isn't the only elite player poised to make his return to the NHL very soon.
NHL officials today informed the 30 general managers assembled for their annual winter meetings that controversial Alexander Radulov, four years after walking out on his contract with the Nashville Predators, is eligible to re-join the Predators this season, even if its only for the playoffs.
Make no doubt about it; many NHL officials are ticked at the ruling. But under the rules, there's nothing they can do to stop it from happening.
In theory, the addition of Radulov, 25, strengthens the Predators significantly as they make a push for the first Stanley Cup in team history and simultaneously try to convince star defencemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to sign new long-term contracts.
Preds GM David Poile added Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad at the deadline, and now Radulov, a world class scoring forward who scored 91 goals over the past four seasons with Ufa of the Kontinental Hockey League and played for Russia in the 2010 Winter Olympics, could be back soon.
That said, Poile can't yet confirm that Radulov, the 15th pick of the 2004 entry draft, is necessarily coming back at all.
"Hey, I'd be happy if he was ready to play against San Jose on Thursday," smiled Poile. "But all the hurdles have been cleared. He would be a great weapon to have. I've talked to the agent. Its up to him whether he wants to come back.
"It feels like it should happen."
The debate over Radulov's eligibility was both regulatory and philosophical. First, some teams believed that like any European player trying to jump across the ocean and play in the NHL this late in the season, he would have to clear waivers.
But NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the GMs that since Radulov's entry level contract was still in effect, waivers would not be required.
Second, there was and is frustration among some GMs that Radulov, back in the summer of 2008, was able to walk out on a binding three-year contract with the Predators after two years, and now will get to return, play a handful of games to "burn" the final year of the $950,000-per-season deal, then try to land a more lucrative contract this summer as a restricted free agent.
"I always thought he could come back. Its our decision," said Poile of Radulov, who was on Nashville's suspended list. "We never even recognized the (KHL) contract. We have the contract.
"If there was going to be a time for him to come back, it should be now. Everything is aligned. (The KHL) playoffs are over. He can burn off the year and get himself to free agency. From the day he left I always thought he was going to come back to the best league in the world.
"I never fully understood why he went there in the first place. I can't agree with his decision to go. We have a binding contract. I still can't believe he was allowed to play. But he was, and we are where we are today."
After Radulov walked out on Nashville, the NHL and KHL agreed they would honor each others contracts in the future. But Radulov was allowed to stay with Ufa.
Nashville sits in third place in the tough Central Division, and fifth in the Western Conference, and the other clubs in the division aren't happy they're able to add such a significant player.
Chicago GM Stan Bowman said teams in the Central simply have to accept Radulov can return if he wants.
"The league has been consistent. Its not like they're changing the rules, so we've got to live with it," he said. "In a perfect world he wouldn't be coming back to a team we're fighting with.
"And does it set a precedent? Can a player just go to Europe and then come back for the playoffs? That's the concern."
St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong said he believed Radulov should have to clear waivers to come back.
"But this wasn't a conspiracy between Nashville and the player. The player walked away from a contract," said Armstrong. "(Radulov) gets his cake and eats it to. He wins on all fronts."
Radulov jumped to the KHL, ostensibly, because the money he could make in the KHL was much greater than what he was earning on an NHL entry level deal. Now, he's been paid by Ufa this season, he can play out his NHL contract with a little as one game played and then hit the RFA market this summer.
Boston GM Peter Chiarelli, who was with the Ottawa Senators at the time when Alexei Yashin sat out the 1999-00 season and then was forced to return and play out the final year of his contract, drew a parallel between the two situations.
"The league has been pretty consistent on this," said Chiarelli. "I'm not going to draw a distinction between (Radulov and Yashin)
"If (Radulov) comes back, he comes back."
The GMs, meanhwhile, have all but formally agreed to institute the hybrid icing rule for next season, subject to the approval of the players union. The league is also expected to demand a tighter standard on line changes "on the fly" and ask the American Hockey League to test out the "ringette" line format, also known as the Bowman line. Under that scheme, a player would have to cross a line at the top of the faceoff circle before he could make a legal pass across the red line to the opposing blue line.