Alexander Radulov shocked the fantasy world in the summer of 2008 when he left the NHL in the middle of his contract with Nashville and signed a new contract in the Kontinental League. At the time, we didn’t know if he would return the following year, the one after that, or ever. It turned out, it was nearly four years later.
When Radulov left, it was about seven months after I had traded him in one of my leagues, but in another keeper league, I still owned him. I’m not a big fan of wondering “will he or won’t he” when it comes to players in the KHL, having learned a lesson with Aleksey Morozov’s seemingly annual tease that he “may” come over. So I moved ‘Rads’ during the 2008-09 campaign. In both cases, the two owners who acquired him from me still have him today. Was it worth the loss of a roster spot for the better part of four seasons? Not yet. Not for those guys.
Only if he signs for next season will the patience pay off. Neither of the two owners is in a position to compete in the playoffs (each of those leagues include a post-season component). And the handful of points he’ll bring them down the stretch will do little to help them in the standings.
So what are the odds of him playing in Nashville next year? He’ll be a restricted free agent as far as the NHL goes, but he still has a year under contract with Ufa of the KHL. According Dmitry Chesnokov of Puck Daddy, it seems likely that Radulov will fulfill his NHL entry level contract – getting credit for a full season despite playing just nine regular season games – and then return to the KHL to finish off the contract there. At that point, he will be 27 years old as of July 5, 2013, which is five days too late to quality for unrestricted free agency in the NHL.
That means if he signs a one-year deal anywhere in 2013, he sets himself up to cash in big time in 2014 as a UFA.
So here we are three games into his NHL return and he has three points. There is nothing to indicate he won’t continue tallying close to a point per game. Fantasy owners have a 70-plus-point player on their hands and they need to decide if they want to sit on him for one to two more seasons. From where I’m sitting, that seems the most likely result.
If Radulov does re-sign with the Preds, he would have to pay off two-thirds of his entire contract with Ufa. The financials of that deal have not been disclosed, but one could safely guess it’s up there in the $5-million-plus range. For that to be worth his while, the Predators would have ante up. But let’s say they do that and he’s back next season. Whom does this help?
At this point, he’s playing with David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist. I like the early chemistry with Hornqvist, but I would love to see Craig Smith at center. Not this year, as Smith is clearly worn down from a long, arduous NHL schedule (he’s accustomed to the college circuit, which is half as many games). But in 2012-13, he’ll have the hands, the hockey sense and the drive to take full advantage of Radulov’s skill – so much so that he’ll get a look on the line in training camp.
Regardless of linemates, Radulov’s presence on that team next season would erase the nickname “fantasy hockey Siberia.” The Preds would finally get a player up over the 70-point mark and he’ll drag one or two along with him. No longer will Nashville players be shunned in the fantasy world because of their limited upside.
So while I doubt Radulov will return to the NHL next season, it would be great for fantasy hockey and the NHL in general if he would.
NEAL BEFORE JAMES
Pittsburgh winger James Neal has 14 points in his last eight contests and that has pushed him into sixth place in league scoring with a reasonable shot at fourth by the time it’s all said and done. This is another example of a great young player with 70-point upside who has shot past that thanks in no small part to a talented linemate – “talented” being a bit of an understatement when describing Evgeni Malkin. Neal is locked in to play for Pittsburgh for the next six years. Malkin is signed for two more, while Sidney Crosby has one more year left. While the team may lose one of Malkin or Crosby, it’s a safe bet Neal will play the duration of his five years with one or the other, making several 80-point seasons not only possible, but likely.
THE DEFENSE RESTS
One of these years, we’re going to get multiple 70-point defensemen. To date, we’ve only been teased. Mike Green has done it before. Erik Karlsson has a shot at 80. Keith Yandle had a 50-game run a year ago that indicated that he could do it. Kris Letang, when healthy, has been a production machine. There are other young defensemen with the talent to get there if the coaching ever shifts to revolve even more around the puck movers. Next season, if Karlsson repeats, Green and Letang remain healthy and another young defenseman such as Yandle, Drew Doughty or Alex Pietrangelo takes the next step, then you have four teams boasting 70-point rearguards. A few “ifs,” but still realistic. If four teams have success with their top-end puck movers, then other coaches will follow suit.
I’m a believer that potentially, if the above happens, then fantasy hockey (and hockey in general) will be blessed with an increase across the board in production among defensemen. There are so many great ones – P.K. Subban, Kevin Shattenkirk, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Stefan Elliott, Cam Fowler, Tobias Enstrom, Alex Goligoski – too many to mention. All it takes is a shift in philosophy, but that shift won’t happen unless its success is proven by more than one team.
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.