Philadelphia, PA – When the first rumors about Alexander Radulov returning to the Nashville Predators began earlier this season, it seemed like the story was too good to be true.
After all, it was Radulov who left the Predators on the bitterest of terms back in the summer of 2008, choosing to depart Nashville for the Kontinental Hockey League despite having one year left on his entry-level NHL contract.
Nearly four years have passed since Radulov chose to play professionally in his home nation of Russia over his burgeoning NHL career and it appears all has been forgiven. All signs point to Radulov joining the Predators for the stretch run, as the 25-year-old tweeted a picture of himself sitting on a plane Tuesday along with a message that read, "In the plaine going to new york then Nashville. )))"
Radulov's revelatory tweet came just one day after Nashville general manager David Poile released a statement on Monday that confirmed the Predators had been working on bringing the talented forward back into the fold.
"We have been in contact with Jay Grossman, Alexander's agent, throughout this process of trying to return Alexander to the Predators and the NHL," Poile said. "Though the complicated process has yet to be concluded, every indication is that Alexander will be returning to Nashville in the near future."
The near future apparently may be as early as Thursday night's game in Pittsburgh, where Radulov could make his official return to North American hockey.
Radulov was just 22 years old when he made the decision to spurn the Predators and join the KHL for its inaugural season. The exodus came after a strong sophomore season as an NHLer, as the 15th overall pick of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft broke out with 26 goals and 58 points over 81 games.
At the time, Radulov's choice sent shockwaves through the hockey world and helped create a Cold War of sorts between the NHL and KHL. As the years have passed, the battle between the two leagues has fizzled as the NHL soon learned that the KHL did not really pose a serious threat to its dominance as the world's best hockey league.
However, according to reports on the negotiations between the leagues regarding Radulov's return to the States, it doesn't seem the Russian sniper will be allowed to commit to the NHL long-term. The KHL has apparently mandated that in exchange for letting Radulov skate for Nashville this season, he will have to return to the Russian league next year.
But, having Radulov beyond the 2011-12 campaign should matter little to the Predators at this point. After all, back in September 2008, when it became clear they could not force Radulov to play in Nashville, the Preds' only recourse was to suspend him without pay. It's doubtful the Preds could have believed back then that they'd be getting any more hockey out of their former prospect.
Having Radulov back for a few weeks, or a few months if Nashville's playoff run goes as planned, is a better ending to this saga than could've ever been dreamed up by the Predators.
Since leaving Nashville, Radulov has experienced tremendous success while playing for Salavat Yulaev Ufa. He won the league MVP award in 2010, is the KHL's all-time leading scorer with 254 points and helped lead Salavat to a championship in 2011. Radulov's club bowed out in the first round of the KHL playoffs this year, but he is hoping to have another chance at a championship this spring, as he'll try to help Nashville claim its first Stanley Cup.
Some NHL GMs are angry that Radulov is allowed to simply rejoin the Predators rather than making him enter the league through waivers, which would give other teams a chance at landing his services. That didn't happen, however, because Radulov failed to honor the entirety of his original contract with Nashville and therefore should still belong to the Preds before any other NHL team.
Radulov being allowed to join Nashville post-trade-deadline certainly gives the Preds an advantage over every other team down the stretch. However, that advantage was earned nearly four years ago when their Predators were helpless in their bid to force Radulov to stay in Nashville.
What NHL GMs are really feeling is not so much anger, as it is fear of what an acquisition like Radulov can do an already-strong team like Nashville come playoff-time.
Radulov could wind up being the missing piece for a Stanley Cup title run, a possibility that seems more likely now than it has at any other point in Predators' history.