Originally posted on Fox Sports Tennessee  |  Last updated 3/12/12
Lately, its become the NHLs version of the Peyton Manning saga before the Indianapolis Colts cut their Hall of Fame-bound quarterback. Only, its in reverse. In this case, its the Nashville Predators and prodigal son Alex Radulov, a story that has begun to reach a fevered pitch in recent days and could be coming soon to a rink near you. Instead of Mannings will-they-keep-him-or-cut-him drama, the Preds, as have always been the case, are at the mercy of Radulov, who remains in Russia, playing Hamlet. To join (the Preds) or not to join? That is the question. The hockey world awaits his answer. First, some background. After drafting Radulov with the 15th overall pick of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Radulov joined the big club for the first time two years later after scoring six goals in his first 11 games in the American Hockey League as a 20-year-old. He finished that 2006-07 NHL season with 18 goals in 64 games and posted 26 in 81 games in 07-08. Then, he bolted. Impetuous youth can be, especially young Russian hockey players. Rather than play for 980,000 in Nashville, Radulov broke the terms of his contract and went to Russias KHL, where the salaries that teams pay players are mostly kept off the books and, as a result, are tax-free. Some reports indicate that Radulov earns many multiples of his former NHL salary while playing the last four seasons for Salavat Yulayev in the city of Ufa. But now Ufa has been eliminated from the KHLs postseason and reports are surfacing that he might finally bring his talents to Middle Tennessee. Some close to the situation believe that Radulov is taking a few days to decide what he wants to do and that the prospects are 5050 that he will rejoin the Predators, who have the sixth most points in the league, made three moves prior to the NHL trade deadline and believe they can make some noise in the postseason. Increasingly, the situation is ripe for Radulovs return. On Monday, Dimitry Chesnokov of Yahoo! reported that KHL President Alexander Medvedev told Sovietsky Sport the league would not be the iron curtain if Radulov elected to leave. The same Russian news outlet has reported that Radulovs Russian agent said that he will have an understanding of the situation on March 15. More and more, its starting to look like now or never for Radulov. Hell be 26 in July and will soon enter his prime, if he has not already. He needs to decide if he wants to make untold millions in Russia while being the best player in a second-tier league or if he wants to prove himself in the best league in the world. Other top Russian players Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Ovechkin have been tempted by the KHLs lure. Radulov is among the rare elite player to return home and stay. Should NHL players again compete in the Olympics in 2014 in Socchi, Russia, as they have at each tournament since 1998, will Radulov be able to look his countrymen in the eye and consider himself their equal without proving it in the NHL? Pride is a powerful motivator among elite athletes and it could be a factor for Radulov. Last Friday in an interview with the Tennessean, Predators general manager David Poile made those points while holding the door wide open for Radulov to return. I think Ive been consistent since the day he left that he will eventually come back and play for the Nashville Predators and play in the NHL, the best league in the world, Poile told the paper. Ive always felt hes a player who wanted to compare himself to better players in the world and I believe he wants to win a Stanley Cup in his career. Ive always said hes going to come back. The timing would be good for him and for us. Just as pride could figure in the decision so will dollars. Significant in this case is that Poile has said that if Radulov plays one game in a season, then he will consider that sufficient to allow the player to become a restricted free agent at seasons end. That could earn Radulov a one-year, 2.5-million deal identical to what Sergei Kostitsyn received when he became a restricted free agent after leading the Predators with 23 goals after 2010-11. Furthermore, the Predators have only 14 games remaining. Small as it is for what he has been earning, 167,000 would be a nice little bonus for Radulov on top of what he already has earned this season and would prevent him from having to play an entire 82 games for 980,000. In essence, those 14 games plus playoffs would jump-start his progression up the salary chart. Indications are that since Radulov is technically suspended, the NHL would suspend its usual waiver rule. (The so-called Ruotsalainen Rule is named for the former Finnish defenseman Reijo Ruotsalainen who played in Europe then signed late in the same season with an NHL team and was on the roster for the payoffs. The rule says if a player plays a single game in Europe and signs with an NHL team, then he must pass through waivers and any other club can claim him.) The NHLPA would have to agree to the suspension of waivers for Radulov, but has not hinted it will interfere. With the trade deadline addition of Andrei Kostitsyn who already is paying dividends with three goals and three assists in five games and Radulov, the Preds could suddenly become a formidable offensive team. They previously bolstered the defense with size and experience in Hal Gill and Paul Gaustad, who is pitching in in that department at forward. Radulovs return if Nashville can sign him to a multi-year deal also could be a powerful factor as the team attempts to re-sign cornerstone defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber to show that the Preds can compete at the highest levels of the league right now. In short, it could be a win-win all around if Radulov finally makes up his mind to return.
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