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Alexander Radulov: a Return to the NHL on the Horizon?

December 28th, 2011 at 9:08 AM
By Matthew Heimlich

No one in hockey embodies the complicated relationship between the National Hockey League (NHL) and the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) like Alexander Radulov. In the 2004 NHL draft, Radulov, a native Russian, was taken with the 15th overall pick by the Nashville Predators. As a 19 year-old playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2005-6, Radulov scored an astounding 152 points in 62 games. During this incredible run, he was signed to a standard entry-level professional contract by the Predators and promptly promoted to their minor league affiliate team.  Radulov was called up to the Predators' NHL club in 2006-7 and had a very solid season, scoring 37 points in 64 games. The 2007-8 season marked Radulov's first full NHL season and he continued to improve his play, scoring 58 points in 81 games. From all outward appearances, Radulov had the makings of a future star in the NHL and the Predators were rightly excited about the prospect of having Radulov continue to develop and produce for their team.  However, in the summer of 2008 Radulov made a decision that publicly exposed the increasingly tenuous relationship between the NHL and KHL.

In July of 2008, Radulov accepted a three-year, $13 million contract from Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the KHL and took off for his homeland of Russia.  While a NHL player signing with a KHL team is not terribly unusual, the problem was that Radulov still had one year left on his NHL contract with the Predators.   From Radulov's perspective, it is understandable why he would want to play professional hockey in his homeland and simultaneously make a significantly higher salary, but the fact that a KHL team had been so brazen as to sign a budding star under contract in the NHL exposed a great rift between the two leagues.

The Predators and the NHL were put into a tough spot by Radulov's decision to sign with a KHL club and leave for Russia.  Under the NHL's standard player contract, a Club has the right to file an injunction against a player to prevent him from playing for another team.  Filing injunctive proceedings in Russia and arguing that a Russian contract was invalid was not likely a winning course of action for the Predators.  Additionally, at the time there was no agreement in place to regulate transfers and ensure the validity of player contracts and between the NHL and KHL.  Therefore, hockey's international governing body, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) determined it had no legal basis to suspend Radulov's KHL contract.  Ultimately, the Predators decided to suspend Radulov indefinitely without pay and Radulov remained in Russia to play out his contract with his KHL team.

Over the last three seasons, Radulov has been a dominant force in the KHL.  He has won 2 consecutive MVP awards, lead his team to a league championship and scored a KHL record 80 points in 54 games last season.  In short, there is nothing left for him to accomplish in the KHL.  His contract expires after the 2011-12 season, and there is growing speculation that he will return to the NHL for the 2012-13 season.  If he does, the Predators will retain his rights. However, the matter of bringing him back is slightly complicated by the presence of the remaining year on his entry-level deal.  It is unlikely (but possible) that the Predators would force Radulov to play out the final year of his contract, given his talent level, age and credentials. Instead, they might be better suited to scrap that deal and sign him to a new contract, similar to how the Capitals dealt with Alexander Semin after he bolted for Russia during the NHL lockout. However it is handled by Predator's management, Radulov should be a welcome addition to the NHL and to the Predators in particular, despite what transpired in the past.

Tags: Alexander Radulov, Kontinental Hockey League, Law, Nashville Predators, NHL, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Salavat Yulaev Ufa, Sports, Sports Law

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