Monday, 28 March 2016

OPINION: Radulov a Flawed, Risky, but Potentially Intriguing Option for Tampa Bay

A report out of Russia this morning indicated that the Toronto Maple Leafs were in the process of negotiating with pending-UFA Alexander Radulov, who last suited up in the NHL with the Nashville Predators back in the 2011-12 season.  While Sportsnet's Elloitte Friedman debunked that report following its release, it is worth noting that there is a very real possibility that Radulov returns to the NHL in time for next season.  The player said as much in an interview translated by The Hockey News last summer:
“You see, I’m not so young,” Radulov told the paper, according to a rough translation. “(I’m) not 20 years old, and it is possible that I will have the last chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. If it is a great option in a team that will fight for the title, then why not?"
One thing that's clear based on that quote is that, should he come back to this side of the pond, Radulov will be looking to win the Stanley Cup; he wants to compete.  So, it's probably not unreasonable to suggest that the Maple Leafs *might* not be the best fit for him.  They are, of course, at least a couple years away from being able to do any damage in the postseason.

If that's indeed the case, it's worth pondering where a guy like Radulov might fit in today's NHL.  He wants to win a title.  He'll likely want some money.  And, because of all the perceived risk involved, he likely won't be able to demand a long-term contract.  Call me crazy, but a Stamkos-less Tampa Bay Lightning squad might be a fit.

Obviously there's a lot still to be determined before this imaginary scenario could ever come to fruition, but if Stamkos walks in the summer (to Toronto, perhaps), the Lightning will have short-term cap space open and a need for an offensive punch.  While there are some names that are slated to show up on the free agent market come July 1st, such as Kyle Okposo and David Backes, they will likely be looking for longer-term deals that could impact the Lightning's plans to get all their young players signed over the next few seasons.  A short-term deal for Radulov wouldn't cause those problems.

What it would do, though, is provide the Lightning with an offensive push.  Take a look at Radulov's stats from the last few seasons in the KHL, courtesy of

His worst season out of the last four was a point-per-game campaign.  He finished second in the KHL in points this year, first last year, and second back in 2012-13.  Production hasn't been an issue for him since returning to Russia.

And, really, it wasn't for him in the NHL either.  While he was never a point-per-game guy during his short tenure with the Nashville Predators, he did compile 102 points in 154 NHL contests.  His short 2011-12 stint saw him post 7 points in 9 regular season games; in his last full season (2007-08), he tallied 58 points in 82 games.  That's first line production in the NHL these days.

I noted earlier that a short-term deal for Radulov, with the potential for that sort of production, could be a great thing for the Lightning given that it would likely come without the risk of impacting the team's cap situation when it comes to signing Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and whoever else.  But, that's not to say there would be no risk with targeting Radulov.  His "issues" have been well documented over the years.  This is a player who walked out on his entry-level deal, only to reappear years later and cause a negative stir.  @Puckologist, a must-follow on Twitter, summed up the risks nicely:
So, yeah, targeting Radulov would come with a certain (read: huge) element of risk.  Is that a guy you want in the Tampa room?  Has he grown up?  What kind of guy would the Lightning, or any other NHL team that brought him over, be getting?  Is the potential for production enough to take that risk?  There are so many questions.

To simplify, it really comes down to this: If Stamkos walks and the Lightning have the option of signing Radulov to a big money deal for a year or two versus signing a guy like Kyle Okposo or Loui Eriksson to a big money deal for five-plus years, what makes more sense?  Do you pull the trigger on one of those options?  Do you stand by and do nothing?  There will be big decisions made this summer.

This piece is full of assumptions, hypotheticals, and improbable scenarios, but I still think it's worth discussing and considering.  In this game, what seems impossible at one moment can happen in the next; Steve Yzerman's tenure as GM has taught us that.  If the Lightning find themselves in a situation where they need an offensive punch this summer, I think they at least owe it to themselves to do some due diligence on Radulov.  Adding him to the team's "Wizards of Ov" club might make more sense than throwing a big-money, long-term deal at one of the other pending-UFAs mentioned above.

What are your thoughts?

As always, thanks for reading.

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