Speculation has been growing since late last week of the Nashville Predators’ talented “prodigal son” returning to their lineup.
Right winger Alexander Radulov, who last suited up with the Predators in the 2008 playoffs, is rumored to be considering a return to the Predators before season's end.
Radulov left the Predators in July 2008 over a contract dispute, signing with Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the Kontinental League, where he's played the past four seasons.
Although he's among the KHL's highest-paid players, it's rumored Radulov is mulling a return to the NHL. Salavat Yulaev's surprising elimination last week from the KHL playoffs heightened of a return to Nashville.
He still owes the Predators the final year of his entry-level contract, paying him $980,000, considerably less than the $4 million-plus he earned per season in his first KHL contract.
If, however, he returned to the Predators before the end of the regular season, it could be considered fulfilling his contractual obligation, making him eligible to become an NHL Group II (restricted) free agent in July.
Because he's still considered under contract with the Predators, he reportedly wouldn't have to pass through waivers to rejoin them, though it's believed the NHL and NHL Players’ Association would have to give the move their collective blessing.
Radulov's return wouldn't be upsetting to Predators management or his former teammates.
GM David Poile told The Tennessean the groundwork for Radulov's return has been in place for the past couple of years, but ultimately it was up to the 25-year-old to make the first move.
Predators captain Shea Weber and defenseman Ryan Suter, who played with Radulov and befriended him during his first two seasons in Nashville, believe he'd have an instant, positive impact upon the roster.
Coach Barry Trotz also spent considerable time talking with Radulov in his first seasons with the Predators. Along with Weber and Suter, Trotz remained in touch with the Russian star at international events.
Trotz, however, isn't assuming Radulov's return is a certainty. “Until I see the whites of young Radulov's eyes, I won't prepare for it because it's the what-if-I-won-the-lottery type of thing,” he said.
It's believed Radulov has matured since he left the Predators as a 21-year-old sophomore. He's widely considered the best forward currently playing outside the NHL, as well as the KHL's marquee player.
Entering this week, however, there's been no news from Radulov as to his future plans. His North American agent, Jay Grossman, last Friday said there was no change in his client's status.
Dmitry Chesnokov of Yahoo! Sports' Puck Daddy blog recently reported the Russian sports magazine SovSport contacted Radulov's Russian agent, but he couldn't shed further light on the subject, adding he hoped to know more by March 1.
The report suggested it would take a “mutual agreement” between Radulov and Salavat Yulaev Ufa to terminate his contract (which apparently expires on April 30th) before he could rejoin the Predators.
Based on these reports, it's now up to Radulov to decide if he'll remain in the KHL – with his current club or by signing with another – beyond this season, or complete his NHL contractual obligation with the Predators.
Given how unique Radulov's situation is, the NHL or NHLPA might not raise objections. While he would need a period of time to readjust to the NHL game, Radulov's return could be the missing piece of the playoff puzzle for the Predators.