Alex Radulov's season in the Kontinental Hockey League is over, as Salavat Yulaev Ufa was eliminated from the Gagarin Cup Playoffs by Ak Bars Kazan in six games. According to our own Dmitry Chesnokov, this was the scene after their loss:
Radulov was asked about his future with Ufa, as everyone wanted to know what it is. He said "no comment." He was asked if he wanted to bring the Gagarin Cup back to Ufa, having won it last season; Radulov basically said "time will tell." He was asked another question about his future, and against said "time will tell."
Later, he was asked if he would try to help Ufa win the Cup against next season. And he walked away.
There are some KHL message boards talking about Radulov skating around the rink and waving to the crowd after the game, which was something they say he rarely does. The thinking is that he was waving goodbye.
Now comes the interesting part: Whether Radulov rejoins the Nashville Predators for the rest of this season and (perhaps) the Stanley Cup Playoffs, giving their offensive a potential game-breaking boost.
TSN's Bob McKenzie set the world on fire on Thursday when he reported that Radulov could be playoff eligible pending NHLPA approval. Dmitry reports that his decision to rejoin the Preds could come on Saturday, after Ufa has its final team meeting.
Radulov has one season left on his NHL deal; if he returns even to play out the regular-season string with the Predators, he'd fulfill that contract.
Both Radulov's Russian and North American agents — the latter is Jay Grossman — have offered "no comments" on his plans. From Josh Cooper of The Tennessean:
Coach Barry Trotz has heard a bit of the fervor, but it's a common story this time of season for the Predators. Radulov bolted Nashville after the 2007-08 season for the KHL. Nashville's 2004 first-round draft pick, Radulov, 25, had 58 points in his last season in the NHL. "Until I see the whites of young Radulov's eyes, I won't prepare for it because that's the what if — if I won the lottery type thing," Trotz said. "Yesterday a couple of people tweeted me or phoned me and asked me if he's coming back? (Shoot) if I know."
If he does decide to return to the NHL, it's a critical decision for both the player and the Predators.
1. Radulov needs to clear that last year of his contract. From Kevin Allen of USA Today:
Radulov still owes the Predators another season on his entry- level contract, and that obligation would be fulfilled if he plays any portion of this season. That would mean Radulov, after playing for his pro-rated entry salary this season, could negotiate a lucrative contract this summer. If he waited until next fall to return to the NHL, he would have to play the entire 2012-13 season for under $1 million before reaching restricted free agency.
If he plays out this season, then he becomes an RFA, with the Predators holding his rights. Which brings us to …
2. This is the kind of offensive star the Predators lack, and the kind of player who might — might — be catnip to Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, who were tight with Radulov when the three were young players on the Preds before he departure to Russia in 2008. From David Boclair of the Nashville City Paper (via Sporting News):
"He just always has a lot of energy, and he's an exciting person to be around," Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter said. "He's so superstitious and he likes the attention. He's a beauty in every way."
"He had a lot of energy, that's for sure," Weber said. "Maybe that's where he rubbed people the wrong way. He was nonstop. Even when you're tired or whatever, he's fired up and he's going 100 miles an hour."
How the rest of the room would react to Radulov's arrival is anyone's guess, but he clearly has friends in high places. As for his, ahem, enthusiasm, it's manifested itself in some interesting ways in the KHL. But he's also a more mature player than he was back in his early NHL years.
All that said … he's a game-changer. He's been a premiere player in Russia, and he's always had that unique ability to create his own offense, no matter the linemates.
You know where the Predators are in the offensive rankings? Ninth, with a goals-for average of 2.79. That's very much thanks to a power play converting at a 20.9-percent clip, which is second in the League.
What happens with a mature Alex Radulov out there with something to prove? Bad things for the rest of the Western Conference, man. Bad things …
Here's Radulov after his team was eliminated from the KHL postseason: