About six months ago, I wrote a post arguing that Alexander Radulov's NHL return may be a lot sooner than people may be expecting. With all due respect to Jaromir Jagr, who sailed across the pond to the NHL this offseason, Alexander Radulov was and still is the best player in hockey not currently playing in the NHL.
Last summer Radulov signed, somewhat secretly, a new three-year contract with KHL's Salavat Yulaev. The thinking behind it was that it would allow the current NHL CBA to expire; under new rules, he could return to the League without the shackles of the one year he still has left on his entry level contract with the Nashville Predators.
There was still a chance, however, that Radulov would come back to the NHL this year, after Predators' representative met with the player last March to persuade him to come back.
Radulov stayed in the KHL. But the club he is with is no longer the club he resigned with — the ownership changed, the coaching staff changed as well. And that new coaching staff is not to Radulov's liking, it would seem. In his first game this preseason Radulov played … on the third line for Salavat.
While the coach said it was a tactical move, the disagreement between the player and the coach was evident. They've had a few weeks of bitterness; and Radulov's discontent has now become public thanks to a candid, and quickly deleted, Twitter message — directed to Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Earlier this month, Coach Mikhalev and Salavat Yulaev management fined Radulov for going AWOL — Radulov traveled to Moscow to play in the Ovechkin-Kovalchuk charity game without obtaining or even asking for permission to leave from his employers.
Mikhalev then told Sovetsky Sport he wouldn't let the player go because the team had a game coming up.
"You should agree that they'd be fine without him there. You also have to consider the interest of the club that is paying you money — the money is not that small by the way. He didn't listen to me and I had to take measures designed for those who misses practices," Mikhalev told Sovetsky Sport.
After that spat with the coach the relationship went sour and culminated in Radulov — as well as another player famous for walking out on a couple of clubs Sergei Zinoviev — missing Salavat's latest regular season game three days ago, citing "health reasons."
"You should ask Radulov and Zinoviev themselves about their health," Mikhalev told Sovetsky Sport, hinting that he doesn't know of any obvious ailments. "If they tell me again that they cannot play, I have no right to put them [on the ice]."
Following the latest semi-public ultimatum, Radulov went on Twitter to answer a few questions about his future. When asked whether he would stay with Salavat Yulaev next season Radulov replied: "Most likely no." And when the rumors started flying that Radulov is moving to St. Petersburg to play for SKA, and Radulov himself was asked about it, he replied: "No comments."
But the most interesting reply came from Radulov to a question posted by no other than Evgeni Malkin himself, when the Penguins center asked Radulov why he was not playing lately.
Radulov said the following in response:
"Mal [addressing Malkin], the coach is [getting on my nerves — the real word used is not for this blog], I am asking for a trade."
Radulov later deleted the tweet. But we all know the power of the Interwebs where no traces and footsteps are really erased. The tweet was captured by the Russian media. Perhaps Radulov meant it as a direct private message to Malkin?
More intrigue: Radulov was not on the roster sheet for Salavat's today's game - not even among the scratches.
These problems don't mean that Radulov will soon find himself on a plane to the NHL. He is as much a political figure as he is simply the best hockey player in the KHL.
However, as one observer told me today, the chances of Radulov finally coming back to the NHL this year "jumped" from 5 percent to 10 percent.
But the chances of Radulov leaving Twitter are now much higher, we imagine.