Friday July 11th, 2008

Looks like a sorta good news/really bad news day in Nashville.

The good news first: it appears as though the team's local owners will cough up the funds to replace the nearly $10 million owed to the city by disgraced minority owner Boots Del Baggio. Essentially, the pledge means the team is safe from being in breach of its lease, a situation that potentially could have affected where the Predators played next season. The issue of Del Baggio's 27 percent ownership stake, however, has not been addressed. The venture capitalist filed for bankruptcy last month in the face of several lawsuits, and is facing a federal probe into a series of loans, including some that were related to his purchase of the Preds.

The temporary stabilization provided by this funding is nice, but it's small solace in the face of the bad news: the Preds are about to lose their most important young forward to Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.

On the same day the KHL and NHL agreed not to poach contractually obligated players from one another came unconfirmed reports out of Russia that Alexander Radulov is going home. The 22-year-old right winger has one year remaining on an entry level contract that was to pay him $984,000 for next season, but that apparently didn't stop him from signing his deal with Salavat Yulaeva on Tuesday -- two days before the new agreement was brokered.

Jay Grossman, Radulov's agent, says it's a three-year deal worth $23-24 million, and it leaves the Predators with few alternatives. They likely will suspend Radulov, as soon as today, taking his salary off the books and freeing up some cap space. But the hole that the gritty 22-goal scorer leaves in the team's top six will be almost impossible to fill. He provided tremendous value for the dollar on that entry-level deal, so the chances of finding an equitable replacement through trade or free agency are slim.

The team may decide to pursue retention of his services through the courts, but even if they win, they lose. If Radulov has his heart set on playing back home, something that's apparent from his statements to the Russian media, then forcing an unhappy player to suit up would be disastrous both on and off the ice.

While the Russian league appears to have won this battle, Russian hockey could be the loser. Based on previous statements by IIHF president Rene Fasel, Radulov is likely to be suspended from international play for anywhere from two to four years. Still, that's a small price to pay. No doubt the ability to stick it to the league that has pilfered so many of its top players will provide a real boost to the spirits of Russian hockey fans and officials.

I have two boys at home, ages seven and four. They're both great kids, but each seems to take great enjoyment out making the other's life miserable from time to time. If you're a parent, you're familiar with the pattern. Little jabs back and forth that slowly escalate until you lay down the law and restore order.

And then, inevitably, one will try to get in the last shot.

You sort of expect that behavior from a little kid. Not so much from an NHL GM.

The long-running feud between Brian Burke of the Ducks and Kevin Lowe of the Oilers -- sparked by Lowe's decision to plunder restricted free agent Dustin Penner from Anaheim last summer -- has provided some compelling, albeit childish, color to the hockey landscape. Honestly, I applaud anything that breeds a little animosity. In a game where a steady stream of player movement and union solidarity combined to dull some of the sharper edges, it's been fun to see the head honchos of two teams with their hate on.

But enough's enough. That's the way the league saw it, too. After Lowe broke his year of silence and finally fired off a few retaliatory volleys of his own, the two men were called on the carpet and told to muzzle it.

"We felt for a host of reasons it was important to bring the parties together and make it clear to both organizations that public comments disparaging the other were bad for the business and would no longer be tolerated," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Canadian Press.

Slaps on the wrist administered, it looked like the hostilities were over. But within days of accepting a league-mandated ceasefire, Burke was at it again. Moments after telling reporters in a conference call that he would accept the NHL's order to put a gag on the feud, Burke took his parting shot, asking the league to consider tampering charges against Lowe.

The basis? This statement that Lowe made in an interview with an Edmonton radio station prior to the league stepping in:

"Anaheim has decent players - Corey Perry is a hell of a player. What I really want to say about [Burke's] bickering about parity and the salary cap is if you're unhappy about them, then trade [Perry] our way, we'll be glad to have him."

Anyone without a chip on his shoulder, or a touch of restraint, would recognize that off-the-cuff remark for what it was. Not Burke, who on Thursday afternoon fired off his version of a nuisance suit.

"It is our understanding that clubs are not entitled to express interest in the services of a player belonging to another NHL organization," he said in a conference call. "Our understanding is that such an expression of interest constitutes tampering. We have asked the league to investigate whether a tampering episode has taken place."

There no doubt are Ducks fans applauding Burke's defense of their honor, but they're naïve if they believe that was his intention. If Burke felt he had a legitimate beef, the place to express it was directly to the commissioner. Since he most likely took advantage of that opportunity -- can you imagine him doing anything else? -- this has to be seen for what it is: Burke petulantly sticking his tongue out at the league.

Putting his legal training to good use, Burke didn't actually break the letter of the law with his parting dig, but he certainly went against the spirit. The recent lawsuit filed against the New York Rangers over online interests proves the NHL isn't afraid to take someone to the woodshed if they can't get along well with others. While the feuding was fun for a while, it has run its course. It's time for the league to come down on Burke. Hard.

The Red Wings added goaltenders Ty Conklin in free agency and Thomas McCollum in the draft, but they might already have had their next great stopper in the system.

Daniel Larsson, a third-round pick in 2006, has impressed thus far at the team's development camp and looks ready to earn an AHL job next season.

The 22-year-old clearly needs time to adjust to the North American style, but after earning the Honken Trophy as Sweden's top goaltender -- Henrik Lundqvist won it from 2003-05 -- he's ready for the challenge.

"He's struggled at times, but you can see what makes him successful," one camp observer noted. "His positioning is excellent, and he reads the play well. That's going to be the key to his ability to transition from the Euro to the NHL style. He looks real athletic, and he's really confident in there."

You can certainly call the Wings legendary drafting prowess into question, but you can't argue with their ability to develop prospects once they're in the system. Larsson's progress will be worth charting this year.

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