Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Radulov era in Nashville appears to be over

As reported by Josh Cooper of the Tennessean, the Nashville Predators have decided not to bring back Alexander Radulov next season. It appears to be the final twist in a saga that will always have Predators fans wondering what might have been.

Radulov was drafted by the Predators in the first round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. He put up a combined 95 points in his first two seasons in a Predators uniform in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons respectively, and the future seemed to be extremely bright for this young, emerging superstar.

However, things took an unexpected turn in the summer of 2008. After a 58-point regular season that left him third on the team in scoring behind Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont, Radulov suddenly bolted to the Kontinental Hockey League while still under contract with the Predators. Suddenly, one of the NHL's bright young stars was gone.

Radulov went on to become the face of the KHL, and won just about everything there is to win over in Russia. He won the KHL's "Golden Stick" Award as the league's most valuable player in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and also helped Salavat Yulaev Ufa win the Gagarin Cup in the 2010-11 season.

During Radulov's absence from the NHL, the Predators were in desperate need of a legitimate scoring threat. Nashville never had a player produce more than 65 points in a single season while Radulov was gone, and it was clear that they could really use a world-class player like Radulov to provide more offense.

Predators' General Manager David Poile was always adamant that Radulov would return to play in Nashville again one day. That day finally came on March 21, 2012. Radulov met with the media that morning at Bridgestone Arena and participated in his first practice in a Nashville uniform since his abrupt departure in 2008.

In nine regular season games with the Predators to close out the 2011-12 regular season, Radulov had three goals and four assists. He seemed to be ready to be a huge difference-maker for the Predators in their playoff run, and he certainly was in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings. Radulov was the leading scorer in the series, notching one goal and four assists in Nashville's first round victory over the Red Wings. Things took a completely different turn in the second round, however.

Radulov was blasted for his seemingly lackluster effort in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinal series against the Phoenix Coyotes by NBC Sports analyst Keith Jones. Things got a lot worse for Radulov in the hockey world when it was announced that he, along with Andrei Kostitsyn, would be suspended for Game 3 of that same series for violating a team rule. Nashville eventually lost to the Coyotes in five games and Radulov seemed to fall out of favor with the entire Predators' organization.

Now that it appears the Predators will cut ties with Radulov, one can only wonder what might have been. He has the skillset to be one of the top players in the world. Few can match his creativity with the puck and fewer still can match the passion with which he plays the game. However, it appears that he is no longer in Nashville's plan.

With his contract with the Predators fulfilled, what does the future hold for Radulov? He can always return to play in the KHL, and many experts believe that is the path he will choose. However, if Radulov does want to play in the NHL, how many teams would be willing to take a chance on him? More importantly from a Nashville standpoint, what kind of return could the Predators get by trading his rights? My guess is not much.

Radulov's NHL stock has never been lower than it is right now. He's always been widely regarded as one of the most talented players in the game, but his character and apparent lack of effort at times are big question marks. Whatever the future holds for Radulov, it's fair to say that he is the biggest bust in Predators' history.


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