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On Radulov, and What He Means to KHL and NHL

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Radulov's famous green gloves might look more gaudy with Nashville's yellow.   (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Radulov's famous green gloves might look more gaudy with Nashville's yellow. (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Bongarts/Getty Images

I suppose it's time I waded in on the latest chapter in the Alexander Radulov saga.

Here's what we know: Alexander Radulov is a rarity, an elite hockey player who is not playing in the world's best league. There are only a select few players who are better than him in the world, everyone of whom is in the NHL. He has won two straight regular season MVP awards in the KHL, and very likely will win again this year for the three-peat. He's the darling of the league, so much so that he can seemingly get away with anything... as this famous clip of a frustrated Radulov attacking his coach illustrates.

Both the NHL and the KHL want him. The NHL wants him not just because he's a talent, but because he is legally contracted to one of their franchises. In the murky first few weeks of the KHL's existence, Radulov jumped ship on the final year of his Entry Level Contract with the Nashville Predators to sign for a much larger contract with Salavat Yulaev Ufa, the last champions of the Russian Super League. The Nashville Predators, in particular, want him badly. Even though he left the team high and dry in 2007, this is a team short on top offensive talent, and trying to compete in the highly competitive Western Conference and specifically the Central Division for the Stanley Cup. Nashville has elite defenders in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, plus an elite goaltender in Pekka Rinne. Their current forward group is best known for being a collection of solid two-way talent, but has no players who will finish in the top 20 in league scoring currently or in the future. Radulov would fit the bill for them, and his return would be perfect timing: they want to win now and don't care that he won't fulfill the full final season on his contract anymore.

For the KHL, he's still their star. There are some players (Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov) that could fill Radulov's shoes, but a year after losing Jaromir Jagr and an entire club in Lokomotiv Yaroslavl that had several international stars on it the league desperately wants to keep its top talent. But the league is also aware that the best way to attract talent is to accomodate its players as much as possible... its a balance between serving their franchises' interests and serving the league as a whole. They are aware of the league's shortcomings, but they want at least want to provide a bit more of a free market system than the NHL currently offers its players. It's probably the KHL's biggest obstacle as a league to date given past history with players and their contracts with Russian clubs, but the area in which they have made the most progress.

From the sounds of things currently, Salavat Yualev does not want to give up the rights to Radulov, and current KHL rules seem to forbid any scenario in which Radulov leaves before the conclusion of the KHL season (as in the playoffs which run through April) and Ufa getting Radulov back without having to re-sign him as an unrestricted free agent. So Ufa won't be releasing Radulov at this point. Radulov can buy out his own contract, though he'd be losing money in doing so. This might be a hard thing for Radulov to deal with, but it does offer him a legitimate path to becoming a free agent. He can fulfill the final year of his contract with Nashville, compete for the Stanley Cup, and then sign with any KHL club or negotiate a new contract with Nashville in the NHL. If he were to sign a 2 year deal either in the KHL or NHL, he'd then become a true free agent worldwide in 2014 when he turns 27.

2014 is obviously the next Olympic year, in Sochi. I can't imagine the Russian federation using the events of this summer against Radulov should he decide to leave the KHL and not select him for the Olympic team, but there still remains the small possibility that the NHL doesn't release their players for the event. There also remains the possibility of a work stoppage that delays the start of the 2012/13 NHL season. These two factors could lead to Radulov deciding to return to the KHL for two more seasons this summer. In the summer of 2014, he'd have satisfied both his NHL and KHL obligations and would be a free agent, free to sign with top clubs from Vancouver all the way to Khabarovsk.

If Radulov decides not to buy out his own contract, he still will have a year remaining of NHL service with Nashville. The scenario presented above is his best way out of this situation. But it's not a cheap one.