Radulov Rips Open Old Wounds for Habs Fans

Montreal Canadiens fans may never know exactly what ultimately broke down negotiations between general manager Marc Bergevin and ex-Habs forward Alexander Radulov two summers ago. If you didn’t think it was an acrimonious split before though, you most definitely know better now.

Visiting Montreal with the Dallas Stars, Radulov curtly excused himself from media availability, with journalist Jean-Francois Chaumont specifically. It was a one-line response that probably said more than any other three words could that ironically directed Chaumont to “Talk to Bergevin,” to get him to answer whatever questions he had.

Radulov Gets Booed

Granted, Radulov’s comment came after he had been booed all night by those in attendance at the Bell Centre, following the home team’s 4-1 loss to the Stars. To add salt to an open wound, Radulov scored into an empty net to help seal the win, so he couldn’t have been too upset.

Alexander Radulov
Alexander Radulov – (Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

Even so, Radulov should probably know better than to shoo away a reporter in hockey-mad Montreal without everyone reading a little too much between the lines. He probably understands upon further reflection that the fans had a right to boo him if they paid for their tickets, just like he had a right to go where the grass (and paycheck) was allegedly greener, by signing with the Stars back in 2017.

Truth be told, the boos can be interpreted as an indirect sign of affection. Habs fan practically fell in love with Radulov over the course of a single season, after Bergevin brought him aboard as a free agent from out of the Kontinental Hockey League for the 2016-17 season.

Radulov more than earned his $5.75 million salary that year, with an 18-goal, 54-point season and proved to be a perfect fit on the opposite wing of Max Pacioretty on the top line. That infamous postseason, Radulov was the only consistent threat against the New York Rangers in the first round, with seven points in the six-game defeat. It was three more than the next-closest Hab, Artturi Lehkonen, which is a huge amount over such a short span.

Radulov vs. Bergevin

So, why weren’t the two sides able to come to an agreement? If you ask Radulov, even though the Habs made the same offer as the Stars, he had already agreed to leave for Dallas.

If you ask Bergevin, he concurs he made the same offer. Of course, it’s Bergevin. You take what Bergevin says with a grain of salt. He also said in an exclusive Q&A with Sportsnet’s Eric Engels that “maybe time will tell that three years from now the wheels are falling off and [the Stars] are stuck paying millions to [Radulov].”

It either speaks to bitterness on Bergevin’s part or a nonsensical insinuation the Stars were foolish to pay Radulov the $31.25 million over five years they did. By his own admission, Bergevin had been willing to pay him that same amount. Would he have been just as foolish?

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin
Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s also odd that seems to be the hill Bergevin’s prepared to die on when Radulov was far from a bust last season, with 27 goals and 72 points in his first as a Star. This year, he has five goals and 11 points in seven games.

It’s true, Radulov’s performance can go into a tailspin from here until the end of his contract, but will it to a greater degree than the performances of Carey Price and Shea Weber by the end of their respective contracts not five, but eight seasons from now? Than defenseman Karl Alzner’s already has, arguably even before he left the Washington Capitals? Needless to say, despite having made quite a few decent deals over the years, Bergevin’s hardly the authority on smart contracts.

Ex-Montreal Canadiens Alexander Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk with current-Hab Shea Weber
Ex-Montreal Canadiens Alexander Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk with current-Hab Shea Weber – (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

Ultimately, two things are clear: Radulov was great as a Hab and there’s enough blame to go around. For example, it’s unfair to say Radulov only went to the Stars for more money, as Bergevin has gone on record with Engels as implying, for a variety of reasons:

For starters, as previously mentioned, Bergevin has admitted he made the same offer (favorable tax rates in Dallas notwithstanding). Bergevin had also just, perhaps inadvertently, compared Radulov to a dog, which probably didn’t give the Russian forward a good reason to stay.

Bergevin had also said he only had enough money to sign one of Radulov and fellow-unrestricted-free-agent Andrei Markov. Considering he failed sign both, is it not conceivable that Bergevin screwed up more than he’s willing to admit?

Finally, considering the Stars’ 92 points in 2017-18 (compared to the Habs’ 71), maybe Radulov just wanted to go to a better team. Sure, the popular school of thought is the Habs could have made the playoffs with Radulov, but that’s exactly the point and why Habs fans maybe booed him excessively the other night… at which point the Stars were still the better team (at least head to head).

So, maybe Radulov is sick of talking about and justifying what was undeniably a logical decision on his part. That’s what everyone should actually know beyond a reasonable shadow of doubt at this juncture. Failure to see it as true is just an inability to move on. No one really needs to know who the bad guy is, only that in the here and now the Habs are doing fine without Radulov. That should be enough. Boo him if you like. Respect that everything has worked out for everyone involved.