by PuckStopsHere on 04/22/12 at 03:24 PM ET
One of the more interesting stories of the stretch run was the way the NHL broke its own rules to get Alexander Radulov to return despite the fact he may only be returning to the league for a handful of games at the end of one season and then return to Russia. Radulov is playing essentially to get out of his entry level contract as fast as possible. He is a restricted free agent this summer. Next summer he will be old enough to be an unrestricted free agent. Radulov’s game plan is to use this upcoming free agency to get a big money NHL contract.
This plan would not work so well if he returned to the NHL and failed. That hasn’t been what has happened. He has been arguably the best offensive player on Nashville since his return.
The Nashville Predators are not a team full of offensive stars. Martin Erat led the team in regular season scoring with 58 points. 62 players in the league outscored and Predators in the regular season. The Preds needed a big scorer and it looks like Radulov could be that guy.
Radulov was a top scorer in the KHL. He scored seven points in nine games in the regular season as he was still adjusting to his new team. In the first round playoff series with the Detroit Red Wings he has been the top scorer on the team. He has five points in five games. His +5 +/- rating is the second highest in the league in the playoffs. Radulov is playing very well. He isn’t the MVP of the playoffs so far, but he would be on a playoff all star team. Given that he is still adjusting to a new team and probably could do better if he was better acclimatized, this is a very impressive record.
Alexander Radulov has played well in his NHL return. This will only raise his value. The question now is when will he cash in with a big NHL contract. This summer he is a restricted free agent and that means that likely only Nashville will be bidding for his services. Nashville is looking at their payroll rising significantly to keep Ryan Suter and Shea Weber in the fold. It isn’t clear if Nashville wants to give Radulov a big contract or if Radulov wants to stay in Nashville longterm. We may see Nashville trade Radulov’s rights to another NHL team who is more capable of signing him longterm. If that doesn’t happen, Radulov will return to the KHL for a season and try his luck as a restricted free agent.
Alexander Radulov has played well since returning to the NHL. This serves to increase his NHL value. Should Nashville make a deep Stanley Cup run with Radulov playing a prominent role, his value will really soar. That is what he is hoping for. That would make his next contract a very big one and that has been his end game all along.
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