Could Radulov Make Predators Favorites Out West?

Written by Brian McCormack on .

David Poile was among the NHL's most active general managers at this year's trade deadline, acquiring shut-down defenseman Hal Gil, penalty-killing specialist Paul Gaustad, and scorer Andrei Kostitsyn to bolster his roster, and at a considerable price. Word out of Nashville this week indicates that even now, he might not be finished.

Consider Alexander Radulov, Nashville's prodigal son.

The Predators and Radulov parted ways following the 2008 season, when he put up 26 goals and 58 points in only his second full NHL season. The contract dispute saw Radulov leaving the Music City with one year at $980,000 still remaining on his entry-level contract, a term he still owes to Nashville.

The dynamic Russian winger may be a chance to return and fulfill his committment to the Predators, who could use his offensive prowess as much as ever. But will he jump at the chance?

Radulov has been one of the KHL's best players since arriving from Nashville, recording 254 points in 210 games for Salavat Yulayev, including the 2010-11 campaign when he put up 25 goals and 80 points in only 54 games. He was named league MVP after the 2010 season.

Radulov is considered by many the best player in the world today not playing in the NHL, and has not ruled out an NHL return.

Yahoo's Dmitry Chesnokov noted a Hot Ice interview earlier this year in which Radulov was quoted as saying, "[My contract] actually contains [a clause] with a possibility of early termination…  I am not ruling out anything. Because if there are offers, we will consider them."

With the elimination of Salavat from the playoffs, the speculation of a late-season addition for Polie has only spiked. And with the push the Preds are obviously making to win this year, a return for Radulov would only be welcomed.

Poile knows the potential hit his roster could take this summer, with RFA Shea Weber poised to take big money again and perhaps capable of drawing an offer sheet from a rival club (despite the courtesy GMs have typically shown in recent years) and Ryan Suter set to draw major attention on July 1st.

Poile proved on deadline day that he is going for it all this year. And he has also shown us in past years that he's willing to spend money to push the team over the top. After all, does anyone remember Forsberg's stint in Nashville in 2007?

This team is better constructed than that Predators team. Poile in 2007 was improving a team that had never won a playoff round, but the team with the second-most points in the West couldn't get past San Jose. This year, after proving they could get through the first bout, the expectations are much greater. 

Already, some of Poile's additions are working wonders. In five games since his arrival, newly acquired Andrei Kostitsyn has three goals and six points. Paul Gaustad has two points in four games, but has won 61.5% of his face-offs. And Hal Gill has bolstered a team with the fourth-best goal differential in the Western Conference, posting a plus-four rating while averaging almost 18 minutes a night.

Nashville has won three of four since the deadline and seven of their last ten.

Adding someone of Radulov's caliber at a cap hit of only $980,000 (he made more than $4 million in Russia), or however they may prorate it, is a bargain for Poile, assuming he doesn't look to restructure the contract before Radulov comes over. Poile's off-season will be difficult enough as is and Radulov will likely be due a big pay-day.

Although Radulov's return would need the blessing of the NHL and NHLPA, as well as some mutual agreement with the KHL, he wouldn't have to pass through waivers, like Evgeni Nabakov did last year, as he is still Predator property.

The Predator's typically struggle offensively, but this year's team hasn't relied as heavily on Vezina candidate Pekka Rinne as in the past. The Predators are fourth in the West in scoring, with six players above the 40-goal mark. But while the scoring is deep and spread throughout the line-up, the Predators still do lack a game-breaker, a player who can take over in the third period and win a game on his own.

Radulov is talented enough to do that. And he would make the league's second-best powerplay even scarier headed into the post-season.

The West is stacked at the top, with the Red Wings, Canucks, and Blues all viable options to play for a Stanley Cup. The Predators are right there as well, with a top-three goaltender, arguably the best defense corps in the NHL, strong special teams, and a swagger we haven't seen from them in their 15 years.

The Predators will be strong enough in net and on defense to shut-down the Canucks and Red Wings, and adding Radulov could be the X-factor that would be the difference in a defensive stand-off with St. Louis.

This is a team that knows they are playoff ready, with arguably the league's best coach in Barry Trotz, and could be in the position to make the biggest move of the season..

Two weeks after the trade deadline.