Alexander Radulov, Heading Home to Mother Russia?

Just when you thought it was safe to go to sleep until hockey training camp opens in September, a curious story broke yesterday that has Alexander Radulov heading back to Russia to play for Salavat Yulaev, a team in the new CHL (Continental Hockey League) which is throwing money at past- and present-NHL stars to quickly gain status as a world-class hockey league. Just recently, Ray Emery and Wade Dubielewicz have headed East to further their careers, but Radulov would mark the first time that an up-and-coming player on the verge of NHL stardom threw that away for a move to Europe.

First of all, many thanks to emailer Mike for pointing this out to me, as Kukla's Korner ran the story as it initially appeared on AllHockey.RU, a Russian hockey website. As of yesterday, all we could use is something like the Google Translator to get a rough idea of what the original article stated, but today there are two articles to point to. Kukla's has a piece from Sport Express (English version), and AllHockey.RU has an interview (translated via Google) with Radulov that basically sounds like he had been hearing from this team since last summer, and while he enjoyed a successful 2007-8 season in Nashville, he's receiving a more lucrative offer to return to Mother Russia.

Radulov's NHL contract runs through the end of the upcoming season and would pay him just under $1 million. As a restricted free agent next summer, a solid campaign (30+ goals) this year would surely have netted him something north of $4 million per year in his next deal. The offer from Russia must be something special for A-Rad to throw away a chance at $30-40 million in guaranteed money that could be coming his way next year at this time.

If this indeed pans out, it is obviously a crushing blow to the Predators organization. Radulov represents the patient, build-through-the-draft approach that GM David Poile prefers, and appears primed to emerge as Nashville's top goal-scoring threat after a solid, 26-goal campaign in 2007-8. It would certainly open up a roster spot for prized Swedish prospect Jonas Hornqvist to play with the big club this fall, but a team that was mediocre offensively last season can ill afford to lose a game-breaking talent like Radulov. In terms of the CBA, the one thing I'd note here is that if he's still in Russia at the start of the NHL season, he'd have to clear waivers in order to rejoin Nashville, which basically means there'd be no chance we'd see him in Predators gear:
In the event a professional or former professional Player plays in a league outside
North America after the start of the NHL Regular Season, other than on Loan from his
Club, he may thereafter play in the NHL during that Playing Season (including Playoffs)
only if he has first either cleared or been obtained via Waivers.
Methinks that a bottom-dwelling team would jump at the chance to scoop up Radulov were he to decide in October or November that he'd rather return to the NHL. In other words, the clock is ticking for David Poile. If this mess isn't cleared up by October 1, the Predators will have lost a huge on-ice asset and fan favorite.

Serves me right, I guess, for sponsoring his Hockey-Reference.com page.

The obvious issue is how this all fits in with the talk from the last few days that the NHL and CHL are reaching agreement on respecting each others' contracts. This Radulov drama would appear to run completely counter to that storyline.

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