Alexander Radulov entered the season facing his fair share of naysayers. An incredible talent, no doubt, some thought it a head scratcher that the Canadiens would shell out nearly $6 million on a one-year deal for the Russian winger in hopes that his supreme scoring ways from the KHL would translate to the NHL game in a hurry. He hadn’t played in the NHL since 2011-12, yet here Montreal was, paying him like a top UFA on a show-me deal.
Well, show them he has. Through 57 games, Radulov is second on the Canadiens with 42 points and his 28 assists are tops on the team. At 18 minutes a game, Radulov has consistently been a fixture of the top six and he seems a threat to score, or make something happen, every time the puck manages to find him. If it was a signing that was questioned at the time, it’s one that now is far from being scrutinized by even the staunchest of Montreal’s opponents. It was a savvy move, a smart acquisition that has paid immediate dividends.
The only trouble now is Montreal has to find a way to re-sign him. That could be tricky.
Over the weekend, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos reported that Radulov isn’t looking for another one-year deal. Realistically, he isn’t even looking for anything that would be considered short term. Rather, the 30-year-old is looking to cash in on the season he’s had and ink something long-term. With that in mind, one would assume Radulov is looking for a contract that gives him some security for several seasons, and even a four-year deal could be on the low end if he’s really looking to hang around the NHL for the foreseeable future.
The difficulty with that, as Kyrpeos pointed out, is that Radulov’s not exactly a prime-aged player anymore. Players are hitting their stride younger and younger while the league as a whole has gone the way of injecting more youth into their lineups. With that in mind, and with Radulov having as much as a decade on some of the league’s premier players, it calls into question whether a 30-year-old, who will be 31 by the time the 2017-18 campaign begins, is worthy of a long-term deal that stretches into the five-, six- or even seven-year range.
But given what Radulov has shown both in terms of ability and production, it’s hard to say he’s not worth the same kind of long-term, high-dollar contract that other free agents have received in the past few years. In fact, just this past off-season, three 30-plus year old players inked long-term, big-money deals, and it’s hard to say any were as safe a gamble as Radulov appears to be going forward. The trio of high-priced veteran deals went to Andrew Ladd, Loui Eriksson and David Backes, and considering the production out of all three this season, it only seems realistic that Radulov could be set to land himself a deal that’s somewhere in the six-year, $30-plus million range.
Let’s start by looking at Ladd’s deal, which was a mammoth — and some would say ill-advised — seven-year, $38.5-million contract with the New York Islanders. Brought in with the hope that he’d find his fit alongside John Tavares, Ladd, who was 30 at the time of the signing, struggled big time to start the season and he still really hasn’t found his complete offense. The biggest issue to begin with was that Ladd couldn’t seem to catch a break and find the back of the net. Those scoring troubles have since fallen by the wayside and he has 16 goals in 54 games, on pace for 23 markers this season, but only 22 points to his name. If he nets 32 points this season, which is his current pace, he’ll have scored roughly half as much as Radulov.
Likewise struggling to start the season was Eriksson, who was 31 at the time of his signing and went nearly a month into the first season of his six-year, $36-million contract with the Vancouver Canucks without netting a goal. His pace has since increased to a respectable 15-goal, 30-point pace, but Eriksson was brought in to be the 30-goal, 60-point player he was during the 2015-16 season with the Boston Bruins, not the 15- to 20-goal player he was in the three years prior to firing on all cylinders in his final season in Beantown.
Which brings us to Backes, who has been the most consistent of the three after inking a five-year, $30-million deal with the Bruins. It’s harder to measure the full weight of his contributions as he’s as much a defensive contributor as he is an offensive one, but his 12 goals and 26 points have him on pace for a near 40-point year. Backes, who is months away from his 33rd birthday, was brought in to a fixture in the middle-six of the lineup and provide the team the depth they needed to get back into the post-season and Stanley Cup contention.
Considering how Radulov has played compared to the three 30-plus year olds who netted themselves sizeable paydays less than a calendar year ago, one would think he should be in line for a similar cash-in and a similar term. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, and there’s something to be said for each player’s track record. Some GMs might look at a player’s history, and in the cases of Ladd, Eriksson and Backes, all three have proven year over year they can contribute. But overlooking Radulov’s impeccable play in the KHL would be a mistake, and it’s already evident that same talent level has translated to the NHL.
The Canadiens project to have more than $23 million to spend come the end of the season with Radulov, Alex Galchenyuk and Nathan Beaulieu the three most important deals that will need to be renewed for the 2017-18 campaign. That’s more than enough money to get the job done with a bit of scratch left over to add elsewhere, so finding a short-term fit shouldn’t be a gargantuan concern. Long-term viability needs to be taken into account, yes, but the Canadiens’ window is open and keeping Radulov around only stands to increase their odds of chasing a championship.
It would seem a near certainty, then, that Radulov is in line to earn something that’s at the very least comparable to the deals of the aforementioned trio, and it seems increasingly likely that he’s set to earn closer to the high end — $6 million per year — than he is the low end. And given that he’s already earning $5.75 million per season, it’s likely going to take a long-term deal in the six- or seven-year range in order for his cap hit to drop by any significant margin.
It’s not going to be cheap to keep Radulov around long-term, but if his first campaign has been any indication, he could very much be worth the price.
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