Let's agree on one thing: Alexander Radulov in hockey-mad Montreal should be interesting.
Will inking Radulov to a one-year, $5.75-million contract go down as a stroke of genius for Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin? Or will it be another ill-fated tire kick, as we saw with enigmatic Alexander Semin last year?
It's very difficult to say. Radulov, who turns 30 next week, has been one of the KHL's best players in the eight seasons he's spent there. He hums along at well north of a point per game, year in and year out. He's a Gagarin Cup champion.
We can't classify him alongside recent KHL import busts like Roman Cervenka or Sergei Plotnikov because, of course, Radulov isn't a traditional import. He cut his teeth in major junior, scoring like crazy with the Quebec Remparts under coach Patrick Roy. The Nashville Predators chose Radulov 15th overall in 2004. He scored 18 goals as a rookie with the Preds in 2006-07 and, in his last full NHL year, posted an impressive 26 goals and 58 points in 2007-08. He was just 21 then. The guy can play. He returned after a completed KHL season to finish out his entry-level NHL deal in 2011-12 and, in 17 games split between the regular season and playoffs, had four goals and 13 points. We know Radulov can handle the North American game.
At the same time, we can't classify him as Evgeny Kuznetsov and Artemi Panarin. They are 24 years old and early in their primes. Radulov is roughly the age when most star scorers exit their primes. So while the Habs likely aren't getting someone who can't hack it the NHL anymore, they also aren't getting an elite scorer at the peak of his powers.
Just days ago, Bergevin shipped out star blueliner P.K. Subban for Shea Weber. The numbers suggest Subban is the superior player right now, so the only logical explanation for the deal was the (misguided) perception Subban's media-friendly personality made him an individualist and distraction for the team, as my colleague Ken Campbell argued deftly. If we accept that theory…how does Radulov make sense? His character has been called into question before. He and Andrei Kostitsyn were suspended by the Preds in Round 2 of the 2012 playoffs for going out the night before a game and breaking curfew. Maybe it's an isolated incident, blown out of proportion. I spoke with the coach at the time, Barry Trotz, and he insisted that was the case. Still, the mini-scandal didn't exactly scream rah-rah. Radulov's team spirit will never be mistaken for that of, say, Zdeno Chara or Jonathan Toews.
Still, even if Radulov is past his prime, he has been one of the world's best players not in the NHL for some time now. He projects to at least contribute something in the 25-goal, 50-point range if he keeps his head on straight. And if he winds up a bust? Oh well. It was just a one-year investment.
WHAT ADVANCED STATS SAY:
Radulov is a tough player to pin down analytically because he’s coming from the KHL. The best course of action is to translate his scoring totals from the KHL to NHL figures using NHL equivalencies. For the KHL, that figure is 0.8, meaning someone who scores at a point-per-game pace would score at 0.8 points per game in the NHL. Over the last few years, Radulov has potted 65 in 53 games, 71 in 46, and 34 in 34, making 170 points in total over 133 games. In NHL terms, that translates to 1.28 points per game or an 84-point player. There’s no guarantee he hits that, but that’s the type of scoring potential he has. At $5.75 million, the money isn’t bad, and with one year, there’s no risk, either. Low risk and potentially a very high reward for the Habs. By Dominik Luszczyszyn