That skinny Russian kid is back, only now he’s a full-grown, international superstar. Erstwhile Nashville Predators first-round draft pick, Alexander Radulov, having recently obtained his release from the KHL’s Salavat Yulaev Ufa, rejoins the Preds for the remainder of the NHL season, beginning with this Thursday’s matchup versus the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rads is a Predator once again, but how long will he remain in Music City? That’s really up to him. (Photo: AP/Mark Humphrey)
(You…don’t mind if I call you Sasha, do you?)
Welcome home…in a manner of speaking. I mean, you do still own a condo here in Nashville, so at least you won’t have to live out of a suitcase between now and the end of the playoffs.
So anyway, howya been? You look like you’ve gained a little weight since you were here last time – and that’s good thing, of course! You’re no longer that skinny kid we so excitedly welcomed back in 2006; you’ve filled out into a well-built, full-grown man – and indeed you are now a grown man!
But seriously Rads, you look great…and you haven’t been looking too shabby out there on the ice either – if you know what I mean (and I think you do).
I trust that the family is good? I’m sure they were very happy with your decision back in 2008 to return to your homeland to play hockey; it must have been equally comforting for you to be close to them, as opposed to being half a world away, here in Nashville.
And as perhaps you might guess, that’s kind of why I’m writing you today.
But please don’t tune me out; I’m NOT here to open old wounds, oh no; my intention is quite the opposite. You see, what I ultimately have to say to you is something that you may not hear too often from the folks in Music City, or from many on this side of The Pond, in general.
I haven’t even introduced myself yet, have I? Heh; and here I was, getting’ all familiar with you, callin’ you ‘Sasha’ and what-not…Geeze, where ARE my manners?
Okay, let’s begin again. Hi Alexander, I’m AJ, and I write a blog about the Nashville Predators; I’ve also been a season ticket holder with the team since 2000-01, so I’m one of many folks here in Nashville who has followed your career with considerable interest on a number of fronts for a long time.
I would like to think that for the most part I’ve always been fair with regard to you, although when you left, you really didn’t make it all that easy for me to be. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most Predators fans were pretty upset when you so abruptly bid ‘Do svidaniya’ to Nashville.
And yes, admittedly, I was one of them.
Yeah, you really ticked some people off with that move, but I’m sure that’s not news to you. From a morale standpoint, 2008 was one TOUGH summer to be a Predators fan.
But you know what else? I believe that it was also a difficult time for you. Moreover, I have never believed you made that decision to leave as cavalierly as it first seemed to a lot of people. And now, based on a few things that I’ve learned recently, I hold even more firmly to that conviction.
I’ll talk a little more about that later.
First off, let me say that I am delighted to see you back. However, with the way this whole scenario has progressed, it’s been a little tough for someone like me to find a consistent angle from which to view it all. Don’t take this the wrong way, but quite frankly, Alex, I’ve been thinking about you almost non-stop since last week, when the talk of your return to the Preds began ramping up in earnest.
As a matter of fact, this is the fourth complete revision of this story that I’ve written over the past five days; I never posted the other versions due to what has seemed to be a constant shifting of rumor versus reported reality of the facts regarding your return and alleged intentions for the future.
This story has certainly been a moving target; it just doesn’t seem to want to hold still long enough for anyone to be able to form a solid opinion – about anything, really.
Ufa is not necessarily the path to UFA
Most anyone who cares about the team realizes what you could mean to Nashville’s chances in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, not to mention the many other potential implications your presence could lend to the short-and-long-term future of the Predators franchise.
Of course, that assumes that you’ll be around long-term, which as of right now, doesn’t look promising, what with Mr. Medvedev’s pronouncement on Monday that you “had no intentions” of re-signing with Nashville.
According to the KHL’s front man, you’re just here to put in your time, satisfy your contract, and then move on, presumably, back home to Russia. Medvedev even openly wished the Preds an early exit from the playoffs in order that you could wrap up your business here and get back home, hopefully in time for the world championships. Sheesh; how brazen is that? I’ve gotta tellya, Alex, if Nashville’s collective skin hadn’t already become so thickened by the process of your leaving in the first place, we might find that assertion a whole lot more offensively disrespectful than it even appears at face value.
Actually it’s kinda funny given everything that’s gone on, don’tcha think?
And you’ll have to admit, this whole thing regarding the agreement you struck with your KHL team, Salavat Yulaev Ufa, is rather perversely humorous as well. I mean, really; the idea that you still owe them one more season of contractual service — so that in reality, you’re really only here in Nashville on loan? Geesh, if the irony of that little detail doesn’t make you laugh, you simply don’t know the definition of comedy.
But please understand, Alex, we in Nashville realize that we don’t ‘own you,’ and that ultimately it is your decision as to where you want to live and where you want to play. However, you obviously have some contractual obligations yet to fill with both your NHL and KHL teams. Of course, ultimately, we’d prefer that you choose the NHL as your career preference. But contrary to what’s being heavily implied by some folks favoring your continuing in the KHL, your Nashville ties don’t end with this season; they will not be washed away simply via your participation with the team between now and the end of June.
I know that you long to reach unrestricted free agent status – what player wouldn’t? But there’s an idea that’s being insinuated that you can go back to Ufa to finish out your obligation next season (which is something I’d actually encourage you to do), and then after reaching 27 years of age that summer, enter 2013-14 as a UFA. I trust that you’ve been informed that this is simply not accurate.
You can blame it on your birthday.
Despite the fact that you turn 27 one year from this coming July 5th, you’ll still miss the cutoff date for achieving UFA status for the following season by five days. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement states that you must turn 27 by June 30th in order to become a UFA in that calendar year. According to the rules as they now stand, you’ll still be an RFA for a year beyond next season, whether you play in the KHL or the NHL. That means if you go back to finish out your Ufa obligation next season, you’ll still need to sign a one-year deal somewhere in 2013-14, before finally gaining your independence that summer.
And yeah, I know; it kinda sucks. After all this, you’d be just five days shy of 28 years old by the time you finally achieve that UFA milestone. And of course, with a new CBA being negotiated this summer, that could change, but what if it doesn’t, or there’s no work stoppage? Whether you decide to play out or buy out the final year of your current KHL contract, your path to independence may still not be complete. You’re going to have to decide one more time which side of the Atlantic you really want to be on.
Why not make it OURS this time?
Why not give Nashville a fighting chance to win you over? I suppose what happens from now through June will go a long way in telling that tale. Money shouldn’t be an issue, although I obviously can’t speak for Preds’ ownership. However, I do know that they have made a public stand on spending whatever it takes to bring the Stanley Cup to Nashville; and might be this year; you could be the key.
AND, you could help make it happen next year too; and maybe even the year after that!
Think of the glory, Alex! Think of the satisfaction, both for you, and for fans like me who assumed that we’d likely never see the whites of your sparkling eyes again!
Nevertheless, only you know what your intentions are, and that’s perfectly fine.
We have already experienced our ‘five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance)’ over you, Alex, and while the renewed drama of this past week has taken that pain to a different level, it’s a level that I believe our emotional calluses will allow us to deal with.
Over the past seven days we’ve gone from total excitement, to confusion, to hopefulness, to wariness, to cynicism. It’s probably unfair to call it ‘The Five Stages of Radulov,’ but could ‘ya blame us if we did?
Believe it or not, we still love you, Alex, but we’re definitely heading into this deal with our eyes wide open. We’ll be willing to let you go this time.
Knowing the Unknowable
In closing, what I really want you to get out of all this, Mr. Radulov, is that while you may have hurt us before, we’re willing both to forgive you and to let you go, if that’s what you really want.
I think the thing that bothered folks around here the most – and still does – is the question of why you left in 2008. Perhaps you’ll decide sometime between now and the end of the season to give us some insight into this seemingly unknowable question.
But I believe I might have an idea.
I discovered something that was pretty eye-opening to me in researching this story. As I mentioned earlier, there just seems to be a lot more in the way of resources available regarding your 2008 split with the Predators than was even available at the time it actually happened.
I recently discovered a hockey fans website that featured a translation of a French-language article to which you granted an interview (Le-Soleil) to talk about your now established KHL career. The date of the article, ironically, was on my birthday back in 2010; a little more than two years after the announcement of your decision to leave the NHL. The article was actually a compilation of three separate Le-Soleil pieces, each posted on the same day. I recognized parts of the text as information I had read previously, with parts of the article likely having been picked up by various news services over the years reporting on the subject.
What I clearly remember reading was your insistence that you did not regret your decision, and you truly believed it was the right thing to do. However, what I don’t recall from among the information I was able to gather back then, was the circumstances under which you ended up in North America in the first place, well before you were drafted by Nashville in 2004.
I was unaware that after you were drafted by your junior team, the Quebec Remparts of the QMHL, you moved to Canada against the wishes of your friends and family back home. I was surprised to read in the article your rather revealing allusion to that decision as, “the first betrayal of my career.”
Logically, the author of the article later characterized your defection to the KHL as “a new betrayal.”
Now whether or not you yourself think of it in those terms, you did go on to say that you could “understand their (the Predators) disappointment,” but nevertheless, that you did not regret your decision to go.
Let me just say, Alex, if you actually felt as though you had betrayed your family by moving to Quebec to play juniors, and then later decided to more- or-less right that wrong and return home after establishing yourself as up-and-coming NHL star – particularly given the age you were at the time – I get that; I really do. And I would hope that most other people, if they really thought about it and placed themselves in your shoes, would understand as well.
It’s still hard, but knowing this makes it a little easier (for me, anyway).
I also understand that being homesick wasn’t the only issue in 2008. I understand that you felt undervalued in comparison to your close friends and colleagues from the Russian High League and Russian Super Leagues: Alex Ovechkin and particularly, your pal, Evgeni Malkin, whom you even pointed to back in 2008 as one who had his entry-level deal reworked for more money by his team, the Pittsburgh Penguins (who just happen to be your very first NHL opponent this Thursday — HA! More irony!).
You felt that you deserved a fairer shake than you were getting, and the Preds were unwilling to comply. I get that too.
But here’s something else I get; you’re not 19, 20, or even 22 years old anymore; I would think that you now have the ability and experience to see things a little differently than you did back then. I would think that you’re no longer completely satisfied with being the best player NOT playing in the NHL.
I would think you’d agree that it’s time to prove to the world that you indeed belong in the same conversation with your aforementioned buddies, and to let the world see that you’re not only the best player NOT in the NHL, but one of the best players in the entire WORLD.
It’s up to you, Sir.
AJ in Nashville
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