Defining The Right Thing
The Nashville Predators have suspended Alexander Radulov (above) and Andrei Kostitsyn for Game 3 on Wednesday night against the Phoenix Coyotes for violating team rules.
MARK HUMPHREY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Suspending Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn for Game 3 was a painful decision for Nashville GM David Poile and head coach Barry Trotz.
But the next one will be even harder.
Let's say the Preds get their act together at home on Wednesday and get their first victory in this series over the Phoenix Coyotes.
Then what? Put the talented truants back in for Game 4? Leave them out and risk being pushed right to the brink without them?
And what if Phoenix wins Game 3? Would Borat I and II then return to try and jumpstart an improbable come-from-behind effort?
Tricky questions indeed that lie ahead. This is not to say that suspending the two dummies for the third game was an error. It was certainly the morally correct move, and its easy to sense that while breaking curfew was the violation, it underscored a larger concern that Radulov and Kostitsyn weren't exactly laying their hearts and souls on the line in this playoff series.
Radulov, of course, is a slippery fellow who walked out on a signed contract with Nashville before. You simply cannot count on him beyond today, and Poile and the Nashville franchise had to hold their noses to bring him back this season, particularly while knowing he has only returned to finish the final portion of his entry level contract and possibly strike it rich this summer.
Kostitsyn, brought it at the trade deadline, was dogged for years in Montreal by suggestions he was, well, a dog. Lots of tools, no toolbox.
Did bringing them in infect the Predators dressing room? Sure didn't seem that way at all in the first round while Nashville was handling Detroit.
But even in today's NHL when players routinely play the tail wagging the dog, it seems unthinkable what they pulled the other night.
So they sit. But then what? And what, beyond this story, does this contribute to the future of Russian players and players from former Soviet republics (Kostitsyn is from Belarus) in the NHL at a time when their North American value has already dropped drastically in recent years?
Columbus got burned by Nikolai Zherdev and Nikita Filatov, or at least the Blue Jackets investment in those players did not yield substantial dividends. We all remember the Alexei Yashin soap opera in Ottawa and massive buy-out in Long Island. The KHL pilfered Radulov and is pushing hard to get other young Russians to stay home, using the NHL's entry level contract structure against it. Washington's 19-year-old blue-chip prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, reports say, has decided to stay with Chelyabinsk for two more years. There's been chatter Winnipeg's Alexander Burmistrov might be on the KHL's radar. Alexander Ovechkin has gone from Washington superstar to headache, a player who declined to participate in the all-star game, and on Monday night played the lowest minutes he's ever played for the Caps without being injured or kicked out of a game. New Jersey went out on a limb to sign Ilya Kovalchuk, and while he was a better player this season, he hasn't come close to giving value for the dollars he has received. Oddly, the Devils were dominant Tuesday night without Kovalchuk in winning Game 2 against Philly.
At the other end of the spectrum, Evgeny Malkin might win the Hart Trophy and Nail Yakupov (an ethnic Tatar) and Mikhail Grigorenko (born in Khabarovsk, near the Chinese border) are highly touted youngsters for the June draft. It would seem completely unfair to tarnish their reputations because of what Radulov and Kostitsyn did. That would be like suggesting Canadian players are all head shot artists because Raffi Torres was suspended for 25 games.
So should NHL teams generalize about Russians, or Belarussians and Kazakhs and Tatars, or is that both short-sighted and bigoted? Can teams "risk" taking Russians in the draft because of the KHL threat, knowing they may not see them until age 21 or even later?
These are complex issues that probably defy a one-size-fits-all resolution, and the market pressures here are unique to Russian players. That said, it would be foolish to suggest there are no subtleties at play here, no cultural misunderstandings that sometimes get in the way of the business of hockey.
From the day more than two decades ago the Soviets started allowing their stars to go to the NHL, it has always been thus. Its not likely to change. All that's in question here is how much and how often NHL will want to invest.