To say the timing seemed curious wouldn't be a stretch. The NHL and the Russian Continental Hockey League come together on a "you won't poach our players under contract, and we won't poach yours" handshake agreement, just as Nashville Predators winger Alexander Radulov decides to head back to Russia to play for Salavat Ulaef in the CHL -- despite still having one year left on his contract with the Predators.
But his agent Yuri Nikolaev told Sovetsky Sport in Russia that "Radulov signed his contract with Salavat two days before Medvedev and the NHL in Zurich agreed to respect each other's contracts. To be honest, Sasha [Radulov] was not even aware of such meeting taking place."
Alrighty. Radulov was an enigma wrapped in a riddle with a Hobbit's face, but he was also a 26-goal scorer at 22 years old. He said he told the Predators he wanted to play in Russia, and that "some Russian clubs were offering me much better conditions than I had in Nashville." Nashville management said they'd call him, but never did. Radulov was unsure if they thought he was bluffing. Apparently, he wasn't.
Puck Daddy's official hockey comrade Dmitry Chesnokov provides a translation from an interview that will appear in tomorrow's Sovetsky Sport in Russia. Here are some choice selections from Radulov's talk with Sov Sports' Pavel Lysenkov, who figures that Radulov will make "no less than $3 million per year" with his new club after making $980,000 for Nashville:
Were you expecting a new contract offer from Nashville?
"Yes. By the way, I informed the management of the Predators that I had good offers in Russia. My contract with the Predators is valid for another year. But I wanted some certainty now. For example, Malkin in Pittsburgh had his contract extended a year before the previous one was set to expire.
Actually, I had been considering returning to Russia for quite some time. I just couldn't make the decision. And when the Ufa [Salavat Ulaef] club offered me this contract I realized that this was it. And my parents also supported my decision."
But maybe you will never be asked to return to the NHL.
"I think that if I play well I will be taken back without any questions. I will be 25. And also, who knows what will happen in 3 years? Maybe our KHL will be so good that there will be no reason to leave?
By the way, you might remember the incident with Alexander Semin? He had an active contract with Washington, but Sasha [Semin] decided to stay in Russia for another year. He was disqualified. But now Semin is playing for the Capitals without any problems."
By the way, does your contract contain a term that would allow you to leave for the NHL?
"There is no such term. This is a full contract for three years."
How do you feel that your contract with Salavat was signed now that Alexander Medvedev and Bill Daly signed an agreement to respect each other's contracts?
"Yeah, right. And Nikita Filatov signed with Columbus at the same time."
They say that Filatov did not have a contract with CSKA Moscow, that he was fired from the club.
"But he still had certain responsibilities [the club owns his rights]. And he left for the States."
And what if Medvedev says: "I do not allow Radulov to play in the KHL!" What then?
"I would be very upset. Yes, anything is possible. But I am trying not to think about it. I need to get ready for the season. I was planning to start training with Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar in St. Petersburg on July 16. But now I have to go to Ufa for Salavat's training camp."
Lately there were quite a few good players who left North America for Russia. Is it possible that in, let's say, 5 years there will be absolutely no Russians in the NHL?
"You see it for yourself that hockey in Russia is blossoming. A lot of money is being invested in the game. We start to see the result like the win in Quebec. I don't know what's going to happen with the NHL. But I hope that KHL is going to be awesome."
What would you like to tell Nashville fans?
"Thank you very much! It was such a pleasure playing for the Predators in the last two years. There is no one to blame for what has happened. But it happened that our paths have separated. I am going to play in Russia now. No one knows what the future will hold. And I wish the Predators to win the Stanley Cup!"
Yeah, they'll get right on that.
I'm sure Radulov will be a huge star in the new Russian League; with the shallow talent pool and the mediocre goaltending, he'll likely reach the levels of offensive creativity he couldn't find while facing the world's best players.
Snark aside, this is really the only danger the NHL faced from the CHL: Young Russian player who hadn't reached the stardom they feel they deserve in North America, being headhunted with extravagant money to return home for three years. And the NHL all but shut that door yesterday with its new agreement, because now young Russian players like Radulov will have to choose between their next big contract in the NHL and a big contract in the CHL, rather than between the last year of an entry level deal and CHL millions.
Like I said yesterday: The CHL isn't the threat some make it out to be. Radulov's defection is a nuisance. A dozen more like him would have been a headache. But the NHL would have never let it get to that point. You really don't want to see Gary Bettman put the screws to a 22-year-old Russian kid. Because he will.
UPDATE (10:28 a.m. EDT): This is a rather large Q&A with Nashville GM David Poile to not have Radulov's name come up at least once. Curious.
UPDATE (4:00 p.m. EDT): Ken Campbell of The Hockey News provides some interesting context to the Radulov departure, including words from his North American-based agent and how the Preds and the NHL may pressure the CHL to void the deal.