Alexander Radulov can do some serious damage in the playoffs. He has a track record. In an act of youthful giddiness, the then 21-year-old Predators winger leaped on teammate Jason Arnott and slammed him into the boards after the Nashville captain had scored the winning goal in Game 3 of the first-round series against Detroit in 2008. Arnott suffered a concussion, and the Predators, three games later, were eliminated.
Presumably, Nashville's prodigal son will hurt only other teams now that he's back from a four-year detour in Russia. Radulov's return has the Predators dreaming of a Stanley Cup and rival G.M.'s muttering. With his arrival and Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith's concussive elbow to the head of the Canucks' Daniel Sedin on March 21—the NHL suspended Keith for five games—the balance of power in the Western Conference has tipped. Nashville's 5--1 loss to the Penguins in Radulov's first game back last Thursday might have been a Cup preview, because now the Predators line up behind only the Blues as the most dangerous contender in the West.
Nashville hasn't been usual offensive basket case this season—through Sunday it led the NHL in power-play efficiency and was eighth in goals per game (2.83)—and the arrival of Radulov is a nifty bonus. Radulov, who bolted before the final year of a contract that would have paid him less than $1 million in 2008--09, is an accomplished scorer; the two-time KHL MVP had 91 goals in 210 games for Ufa Salavat Yulaev. In his first three games with the Predators, Radulov had three points. He should have sufficient time to readjust to the smaller NHL ice surface (15 feet narrower than in the KHL) and meld with his teammates.
Nashville G.M. David Poile is hoping Radulov's return will bolster efforts to re-sign star defensemen Ryan Suter, who will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and Shea Weber, a UFA in 2013. But other G.M.'s are peeved that neither the NHL nor the players' association insisted, as per the CBA, that Radulov clear waivers. (Radulov, suspended without pay since he left town, will burn the final year of his entry-level deal by playing in Nashville's last nine games, after which he will become a restricted free agent.) Says one G.M., "Here's a player who left to make more money and came back when he wanted to with no ramifications. He walked out on a valid contract with no punishment."
Any pain resulting from Radulov's return will likely be felt by Nashville's opponents. The question is: for how long?
ADAM HUNGER (RADULOV IN NHL)
TWO WAYS ABOUT IT After finishing the KHL season with Ufa, Radulov (inset, in green) returned to Nashville to finish the final year of his entry-level deal. The Predators are happy to see him back; the rest of the league is crying foul.
VLADIMIR BEZZUBOV/YURY KUZMIN/KHL PHOTO AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES (RADULOV IN KHL)
[See caption above]