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The Return of Radulov?

Imagine my surprise to see this headline from Yahoo's Puck Daddy come across my screen: "NHLPA director: Radulov wants to leave KHL, rejoin NHL." This comes from an interview that NHLPA director Paul Kelly gave on Toronto radio.

Here's the money quote, per the Puck Daddy:

"My information is that the player very much wants to return and play in the NHL. I have that on extremely good authority. He's tried the KHL. He's seen what it has to offer for a few games already. He was quite successful last year for the Nashville Predators. I think, long-term, Alexander wants to play in the NHL. I believe there is an outcome which is doable, which will involve some type of an agreement between the NHL, the KHL, the player himself and the Predators."

This is sure to light up a firestorm of emotion from Predators fans, who were quick to rid themselves of the young phenom. Here's a sample from the Preds message board:

"Fine, come on back you POS. Find some other team with another Russian(s) to coddle this nutjob and make the trade Poile. I don't care if we get nothing in return, but under no circumstances let this f'er back on the team. "

This whole saga has been unusual, to be sure, and to have a player Radulov walk out on his team just as he was primed to enter NHL stardom was a cruel blow to a fanbase that has taken more than their fair share of abuse over the last year. So the reaction of many has been completely understandable.

That said, GM David Poile and the rest of the organization need to welcome Radulov back with open arms if he truly wants to return.

First of all, no genuine harm has yet been done; he's got time to report to training camp, so it's not like they've missed him from the lineup and have lost games as a result. Secondly, and most importantly, the Predators are a better team with Radulov in the lineup, and this episode has probably ruined his trade value, anyway. The clear path forward for the franchise is to invest in Radulov and themselves by charting a positive course heading into the new season.

The only parallel I can come up with here in terms of how Radulov might be accepted back to the team comes from the Sergei Fedorov offer sheet drama from 1997-98. After helping the Red Wings to their first Stanley Cup in 42 years, Motown was ecstatic about their team. When Vladimir Konstantinov and Sergei Mnatsakanov were critically injured in the tragic limo accident just days later, the emotional ties deepened as the community and the team rallied around thier stricken comrades. As that drama unfolded over the course of the summer of 1997, Fedorov, a restricted free agent, proved stubborn in negotiations with Detroit, not just over money but over his role on the team. Quite frankly, he wanted to be the #1 guy, and he knew that as long as Steve Yzerman was around, that was never going to happen.

Fedorov and the Wings were at an impasse for several months, and Detroit launched their title defense in the 1997-98 season with Fedorov holding out. It wasn't until midway through the season until Carolina came forth with an offer specifically crafted to screw Detroit (with hefty team-based incentives that Detroit was likely to achieve, but Carolina not). Hockeytown was calling for Fedorov to be shipped out of town as quickly as possible, but the Red Wings management played it cool, matched the offer, and welcomed #91 back into the fold.

As you should well know, they went on to win the Stanley Cup that spring, and added another in 2002 before Fedorov finally left as an unrestricted free agent as the most accomplished Russian in NHL history.

Were there ramifications for Fedorov out of all this? Certainly; there is a large part of the Detroit fan base that reviles him to this day, and things must have been awkward during the early days of his return. But the bottom line is these guys are all professional hockey players, and pretty quickly, getting into the routine of competitive play will reaffirm everyone's working relationships.

If Alexander Radulov truly wants to return to Nashville, the Predators would be wise to do whatever they can to make that happen, and also sit down with the young star to figure out how better to support him going forward. Do they need to bring in a senior Russian, either as a current player or team adviser, to lend him a hand? It surely wouldn't hurt to explore those kinds of options.

The point here is to focus on the days ahead, and how to make them best work out for the Nashville Predators; that would involve having a potential 30-40 goal scorer on one of your top two lines, even if he has spent the last few weeks lighting up the KHL.

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