It may be the most high-risk, high-reward signing of the summer of 2016: The Montreal Canadiens have signed Russian superstar Alexander Radulov to a one-year contract that will pay him $5.75 million. Despite a wealth of undeniable talent, he is a controversial figure. He twice left the NHL while under contract with the Nashville Predators, and was famously suspended by the Preds for breaking curfew during the playoffs.
After that incident, he returned to Russia to be the face of a league where he has more assists than any other player in league history. He ranks second to only Sergei Mozyakin in total points.
Radulov’s Next Chapter
But a few days from turning 30, now a father, Radulov is ready to turn over a new leaf. He’s ready to chase the Stanley Cup in a return to the NHL, he said on a call Friday. While he was reticent to say too much about past controversies, the Russian forward was unequivocal in his insistence that this is a new chapter in his life.
“The past is the past,” he said. “I made a mistake. I’m not trying to say I wasn’t doing it or it wasn’t my mistake. Yes, I did and it’s real life. Time goes by and you look at some things and what should have [been] done, what should not have [been] done and you realize some things.
“I completely know what I’m doing right now and I know how to do this. You have to be more on the hockey, work hard and be ready for every game.”
What Has Changed?
Early in his career his commitment was questioned, and that, even aside from his departure for the KHL, made him less than a fan favorite in North America. But his reputation has often obfuscated, at least for North American fans, his immense talent and passion for the game. He’s one of the world’s great players. That’s probably the reason that people have vouched for his return to the NHL.
In Montreal, he’ll rejoin former Nashville captain Shea Weber, who vouched for Radulov prior to his return to Nashville. After Radulov left Nashville, again, Weber told Vancouver radio, “You feel a little bit betrayed, but I am sure he feels bad about it now and he looks back on it and wishes it didn’t happen. Those are the things you can’t take back and we’ve got to move forward.”
The feeling of betrayal has subsided. During his Friday press conference, general manager Marc Bergevin noted that he talked to Weber and CSKA Moscow GM Sergei Fedorov about bringing in Radulov. “Shea talked to me about when he was with him in Nashville. It was not a character issue, but a maturity issue,” Bergevin said. “Sergei said, ‘He’s one of my leaders, he’s my captain, he’s got a wife and kids and he wants to come back in the NHL.’ My scouts, we watched him a lot this year, he’s one of the hardest working kids.
“We’re taking a risk, but hopefully the reward is big.”
Following the departure of fan-favorite P.K. Subban, there may not be a welcoming environment for Radulov to start, but he’s trying to show he’s committed to the team and his return. “What the coach tell me to do, I will do it and play with who I’m going to play with,” he said Friday. “It doesn’t really matter. That’s the coach’s decision. They’ll put me where they put me and I’ll do my best.”
He’s not just saying the right things, his decisions have shown his desire to make his mark in the NHL as well. He’s reported to have turned down a two-year offer in the NHL in favor of playing with Montreal. He’s also reported to have left money on the table by signing in Montreal over taking a more lucrative offer in the KHL.
“I’m happy,” he said. “I’m just happy to be a part of the Montreal Canadiens.”
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.