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Game #26 – Hawks vs. Stars: Spotlight – Russian Circle

We know that the coverage and view of Russian players in the NHL can get a tad skewed due to some very outdated and quite simply jingoistic feelings. Due to some bad actors, much more than should have have had to deal with suspicion and being labeled lazy, greedy, uncaring, and weak, or all of the above. And really, there are no more players from Russia who exhibit these characteristics than those who come from Canadian backwaters. But none of them are named “Gordie,” nor do they know what “Timbo’s” is, so they get treated differently

Alex Radulov has had a strange odyssey of a career, and he has been labeled with all of the above during it. Some of it may be warranted, maybe some of it not. Let’s go back through it.

You don’t remember, because it was so long ago and it took place before the Hawks got good which as we know was before hockey existed, but ten years ago Radulov put up 58 points at the age of 21 with the Predators. He was one of the most exciting prospects in the game. With Radulov, Suter, Weber, Rinne, Hamhuis, and Legwand it was thought that the Preds would be challenging for the Central for years to come.

It never worked out that way, partly because Radulov immediately fucked off back to Russia after that season. He still had one year on his entry-level deal, but clearly didn’t feel that as an RFA he was going to make what he could back in the KHL And that wasn’t wrong, but that didn’t stop the Preds and the NHL from putting up a fight to keep him here. It didn’t work, Radulov was suspended by Nashville and he spent the next four seasons in Russia.

Radulov didn’t help his cause much after that fourth seasons in Russia, when he came back to the help the Preds in the ’12 playoffs, but also didn’t make it much of a secret that he was just running out the last year of his entry-level deal. That was the spring he and a couple teammates were caught in a Glendale bar at 5am the night before Game 2 against the Coyotes, which didn’t make it seem like he was all that invested. Of course, the hockey media was all to ready to pounce on what appeared to be a carpetbagger, and one from the Motherland. Give them an inch…

Radulov again returned to Russia after that spring, as no one was terribly too interested in signing him after that whole ruckus. Radulov spent another four years with CSKA.

But after those four years Radulov could return to the NHL as a free agent, which again, didn’t look all that good. Still, no one in Montreal was complaining about his 54-point-season last year, nor are the Stars complaining about his point-per-game pace so far this one after he cashed in for a five-year deal at a cool $6 million per.

Certainly Habs fans didn’t think Radulov wasn’t committed, showing great passion on and off the ice. There were some who would claim it was all a show, and there was no way to know after what came before.

Perhaps the way young players are viewed is simply impossible for them, especially those from Europe. Every player is expected to have come over and dreamt of winning the Stanley Cup and put that over all, but is that realistic? Some do, some probably don’t. After all, to a lot of players the World Championships every year are a really big deal, and here they’re barely a ripple on the hockey calendar.

Secondly, even though it was negotiated and collectively bargained, young players are still put to the screws financially in the NHL. Only a select few make a ton of money after their entry-level deals, and thanks to what is in no way “collusion” we’re sure that prevents offer sheets, they have no leverage. Those that can at least threaten to take the serious money on offer across the pond have different leverage than others who don’t even think about it.

It a system that made sense, players would make what they’re worth basically as soon as possible. Given the money attached to the game, it isn’t a wonder or wrong that it becomes a major motivation for a player.

So is, or was, Radulov just a mercenary who took the highest paycheck he could find? Or did he just play the system that was on offer to him and do the best he could? We know what the view was from those who pen the articles. Given Radulov’s renaissance, that might not be the truth. Maybe it’s just a player who didn’t love the game here at a young age, went back to where he was comfortable and more rightly rewarded, and with age and maturity came back to accomplish more over here.

Or he just came back because it was time to make serious money here. We’ll never know.

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