The Predators prodigal son, Alexander Radulov, returned from his KHL hiatus to join the Predators for their final regular season games and the playoffs. Radulov arrived in Nashville last night and went through a physical and practiced with the team this morning.
Head Coach Barry Trotz said that he would believe that Radulov was going to join the team "when he saw the whites of his eyes." Here is a picture from Kevin Wilson, Director of Media Relations for the Predators, showing Trotz examining the aforementioned eyes upon his arrival at the Bridgestone Arena after last night's game:
While the Predators welcome back the mercurial player who bears the sobriquet of "the best player not in the NHL", questions still abound about his return to the team, not the least of which is "How will his return affect the chemistry of a pretty darn good team?"
That team sanctum of the locker room is pretty tight for the Predators right now- a good bunch of guys that support each other on and off the ice. Will Radulov's arrival disrupt the bonds this team has forged this season? Will he appear to be a prima donna, going around rules and conventions to achieve his ultimate end of freedom to negotiate a contract with any team in the NHL (or KHL for that matter)? Who gets bumped out of the line up so A-Rad can play, and what does that do to the locker room?
All of those questions are legitimate, and ones for which we have no specific answer. However, there are several considerations that should be kept in mind when considering this situation. A-Rad has a good relationship with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, and that will help pave the way for his acceptance into the locker room. That fact alone will keep disruption to a minimum, if non-existent.
For the team, the off ice considerations for Radulov about contracts, RFA versus UFA status, and where he will play next season become ancillary to the fact that the team is re-gaining a dynamic scorer who can be a difference maker in the remaining regular season games and the playoffs. Each player to a man recognizes that A-Rad could be the missing component to a very good team that could make them an exceptional team.
We should not forget that General Manager David Poile is no babe in the woods when it comes to these types of situations. Poile's quiet demeanor belies a shrewd and analytical mind that is constantly working to position the Predators for a run at the Cup. Poile knows that Radulov can be the impact player that can take the Predators to their goal of the Grail. And know this: Poile has thought out and worked the angles on this situation. Whether Radulov returns to the KHL or stays in the NHL, the Predators will still retain his rights by virtue of Rad's RFA status at the end of the season.
That Radulov can burn the final year of his entry level contract by playing a handful of regular season games and the playoff games has some other GM's fuming. It is, however, well within the rules and has been blessed by both the NHL and the NHLPA. Expect this issue to come up in the next collective bargaining agreement and the rules to be amended to prevent this type of situation from occurring again. Their ire at this situation is validation of the impact that Radulov can have on the Predators and their level of play.
Here is what we as Predator fans should keep in mind. David Poile and the coaching staff would never have allowed Radulov's return to the team in these circumstances if it would put the Predators franchise in hot water. And they would not have allowed his return if it was going to cause this cohesive team to become resentful and fragmented.
No, the door was opened for Radulov to return because he is a difference maker, one that can potentially put the Predators over the top in their quest for the Cup. And that door was opened because Poile and the coaches knew that the team would assimilate A-Rad back in without difficulty.
For the Prodigal, it was time to come home.