The narrative surrounding Alexander Radulov has completely flipped in the past year. When he was inked by the Montreal Canadiens to a one-year, $5.75 million deal on the first day of free agency last summer, not long after the team had pulled off a massively polarizing swap of P.K. Subban for Shea Weber, it was met with a scoff and some skepticism. Radulov, an enigmatic Russian who didn’t care enough for the NHL attempting another comeback with this impending disaster in Montreal. Comedy!
But Radulov was a hit this year. He was Montreal’s most valuable player (not named Carey Price) for good chunks of the season, and dragged the team on his back throughout the first round of the playoffs. The Habs didn’t make it out of the first round, but Radulov’s performance resulted in him being called ‘the best player in the league’ by the notoriously xenophobic Don Cherry.
Now nobody’s laughing at the idea of Radulov, finally, at the age of 30, living up to his hype and becoming a star player in the NHL. In fact, he’s going to be heading into free agency this summer not as a question mark maybe worth a one-year gamble, but instead as a player who’s certainly going to lock down a lucrative, long-term contract.
Who is he?
“A passionate scoring winger, Alexander Radulov creates chances offensively whenever he’s on the ice. Possesses quick hands and tremendous puck skills. Radulov has good size and strength, while he does a great job protecting the puck and is hard to knock off it. A fast skater, who has strong shooting tools and can rip hard wrist or backhand shots. Radulov has excellent vision and can make fine seem plays. Has improved his play without the puck, it’s still among his weaknesses, though. A true game-breaking forward, who has matured over the past couple of years and can electrify a team’s offence.” Quote from Rafik Soliman
Radulov was drafted out of Russia by the Nashville Predators with the 15th pick in the 2004 NHL draft, in which his hype was completely hidden behind the two top Russian prospects, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.
He came to the QMJHL to play for Ramparts in his post-draft season and put up a respectable 75 points in 65 games. The following season, Radulov really burst out. He scored 61 goals and put up 91 assists in 62 games, then went on to score 55 points in 23 playoff games, carrying the Ramparts to a Memorial Cup victory.
If you want to know truly how good he was, just take a look at his linemate, Angelo Esposito. Esposito scored 98 points in 57 games as a 16-year-old in the QMJHL, was touted to be one of, if not the best prospect going into the 2007 draft, but fell off a cliff after Radulov moved on. Esposito scored 79 and 69 points the following two seasons, was eventually drafted 20th overall, and never played in the NHL.
Radulov spent a few weeks in the AHL in 2006 before getting called up to the Predators. He finished his rookie season with 18 goals an 19 assists in 64 games on a very good Nashville team. The following season, his first full campaign in the NHL, Radulov scored 26 goals and 32 assists in 81 games, good for third on the team.
Then he left. Apparently Radulov figured the money would be better in Russia than in Nashville, so the then 22-year-old packed up and went home. Radulov proceeded to tear up the KHL. He put seasons totalling 92, 62, 83, and 64 points with Salavat Yulaev Ufa before making a brief comeback to the NHL. He joined the Predators for a playoff run in 2012, but it didn’t go well. Him and teammate Andrei Kostitsyn were scratched for missing curfew, furthering the idea that the Russian superstar was an enigma not worth the trouble he caused.
He returned to the KHL, this time with CSKA Moscow, and continued to dominate the league. As a result, Radulov was given the title ‘Best Player not in the NHL’, but based on his confusing time in Nashville, nobody assumed he would ever work out in North America.
But here we are. Radulov, the former budding superstar who just didn’t seem to be happy away from home, just had an excellent season with the Montreal Canadiens, and is now one of the most coveted assets set to hit the free agent market. Shea Weber, who had a front seat to all of the drama back in Nashville, said that Radulov has matured with age, but his passion and energy are still the same, finally making him the player many thought he could be.
How much is he going to cost?
It’s difficult to find a contract comparable for Radulov because he’s a unique case. A 30-year-old former 15th overall pick coming of an excellent season on a one-year, show-me-what-ya-got contract after spending the majority of his career being very good in the KHL? The one and only Alexander Radulov!
If you take out all of the noise around it, you have an unrestricted free agent winger who’s turning 31 years old, scored 18 goals and 36 assists on a team with a good-but-not-great offence, and posted a 54.2 Corsi For percentage (+2.3 rel) over 76 games. Some similar players who put up numbers like that at the same age would be…
Kyle Okposo, who scored 22 goals and 42 assists in 79 games with the Islanders the season before signing a seven-year contract worth $6 million annually with the Buffalo Sabres. Okposo is two years younger than Radulov, but the production is pretty similar. And Loui Eriksson, who scored 30 goals and 33 assists in 82 games with the Bruins before signing a six-year contract worth $6 million annually with the Vancouver Canucks. Eriksson is one year older than Radulov, but produced at a higher level heading into free agency.
According to a report from Nick Kypreos back in February, Radulov was at the time looking to sign a long-term deal, five or six years, worth $4.5 to $5 million annually. Based on Okposo and Eriksson as two realistic comparables, Radulov won’t have a difficult time meeting those demands on the open market, especially considering the fact his strong playoff performance has certainly raised his stock since the time of this report.
Can the Habs afford it?
The Habs already have roughly $52 million tied into nine forwards, six defencemen, and two goalies heading into next season. Depending on where the salary cap ceiling ends up, which is something that’s uncertain right now, the Habs will have somewhere between $21 and $25 million to fill out the rest of their roster, which includes a new contract for Alex Galchenyuk, Alex Radulov, Andrei Markov, and replacements and upgrades elsewhere.
That’s certainly enough money to fit Radulov in right now. But what about in the long term? The Habs have Carey Price signed at just $6.5 million annually for only one more season before the former Hart Trophy winner can hit free agency for the first time in his career. At the end of the 2017-18 season, $6 million owed to Tomas Plekanec will also come off the shelf, giving the Habs more room to work with, but still, the decisions they make now will need to be with Price’s inevitable pay increase in mind. Still, though, the way the Habs are set up, it’s difficult to imagine Radulov getting in the way of Carey Price’s next contract.
If he hits the open market…
Last summer, when Radulov confirmed he was going to make a return to the NHL, it was reported that multiple teams were interested. The Colorado Avalanche appeared to be frontrunners at one time to sign Radulov, and the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals were also in the mix. But ultimately, the Montreal Canadiens swooped in and made it happen with a one-year deal.
With that in mind, it’s pretty clear that Radulov will have a lot of interest if he does make it to the open market this summer. I don’t imagine the Canadiens will sign him in advance of the expansion draft, because that would mean they have to expose him to Vegas, but there’s still a window afterwards to sign him to an extension before July 1 rolls around and anybody can talk to him.
Alexander Radulov when asked if having more teams competing for his services would tempt him to go to market July 1. (Spoiler: no). pic.twitter.com/Vgu6Kju98j— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) April 24, 2017
Alexander Radulov, in the span of one year, has made everybody forget all of the baggage that surrounded him in the past. Once a frustrating player who didn’t seem to fit in North America, Radulov had an impressive return to the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens this season, resulting him him being arguably the most coveted free agent asset available this summer. That is, of course, if him and the Habs don’t figure out a new deal before July 1.