The relationship between The Nashville Predators and their prodigal prodigy Alexander Radulov ended not with a Cup but with a crash as the Predators GM David Poile stated today that the team would be parting ways with Radulov.
According to Poile, the team would attempt to trade his rights to another NHL team if he wanted to remain in the League or would allow him to return to the KHL if he so desired.
It was hoped that Radulov would provide the scoring punch that would propel the Predators deep into the playoffs and hopefully a run to the Cup. As it was, the Predators were defeated in the second round, and Radulov was not a factor against the Coyotes.
By returning for the final 9 games of the regular season and the 8 games in the playoffs, Radulov was able to burn the last year of his entry level contract that was still pending since he had skipped out and grabbed a lucrative contract in the KHL. This leaves Radulov as a RFA in the eyes of the NHL, and would allow the Predators to trade his rights if there is a suitor. If Radulov returns to the KHL, the Predators will receive no compensation, and if he chooses to return to the NHL after age 27, he will be an unrestricted free agent and free to negotiate with any team.
The salient question that emerges from this situation: did Radulov's escapades in Phoenix bring about his demise with the Predators?
There is no doubt that the late night carousing and curfew violation by Radulov hurt. It hurt the Predators in their series with the Coyotes and it hurt the reputation of Radulov. The playoffs are a war, and the team's that are successful draw closer together and play with greater cohesion and trust than even in the regular season.
That trust is critical, both on and off the ice. Players have to be responsible in all zones. Players have to know that their teammates are where they are supposed to be on the ice and that they are laying it on the line in every shift. The physical play and the effort is ramped up to a new level. A player has to trust that their teammate is ready to bring it every game.
Players also have to trust that their teammates are doing the right thing off the ice.
To find out that one of your teammates has selfishly decided to party the night before a critical game is devastating to that trust.
The incident in Phoenix belies a more fundamental issue, and that is a player that puts their own desires ahead of the the good of the team. The grind and the challenges of a hockey season are tough enough and for a team to be successful, there has to be cohesion in the locker room. Even more so in the playoffs. A player that puts their needs, puts themselves above the team destroys that unity and cohesion. The disruption is tangible and corrosive.
In my view, Radulov was already skating on thin ice by his previous action of failing to honor the last year of his contract. Trust was already an issue with Radulov. His abandonment of the Predators for the KHL clearly spoke to his self centeredness. Yes, I know that there were not agreements in place between the NHL and the KHL at the time, and yes, there was significantly more money involved in his KHL contract. Yet his actions screamed "me" rather than team.
Ultimately, it came down to whether or not the players and coaches could trust Radulov as a player and a person.
The Predators answered that question today.
Was it the right decision by the Predators?
Radulov would have commanded more money from the Predators if he decided to remain with the team and the NHL. Contracts are a two way street involving compensation from the team and commitment from the player. Radulov had become "damaged goods" because his commitment was now in question.
The experiment with the enigmatic Radulov certainly did not turn out the way the Predators or their fans would have wanted.
There will be questions about this course of action by the Predators. We all can second guess this action.
I believe it was the right thing for the Predators to do.