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If Canadiens won’t pay up for Radulov, several others may be more than willing

Alexander Radulov and the Montreal Canadiens still haven’t come to terms on a new deal, and if nothing is in place by July 1, Radulov could become the most highly sought after free agent forward on the market.

The Montreal Canadiens have a difficult situation on their hands when it comes to Alexander Radulov.

You see, the Canadiens want to keep Radulov, 30, around in Montreal, and with good reason. This past season, which happened to be Radulov’s first foray back into the NHL since 2011-12 and his first full campaign in the league since the 2007-08 campaign, was an excellent one as far as adjustments to the NHL go. The Russian winger found almost instant chemistry with several of his linemates, was a consistent producer, put up 18 goals and 54 points in 76 games and gave Montreal that one additional scoring threat that they so desperately needed. But a performance like that comes with a price — and it’s a price the Canadiens may not be willing to pay.

There’s no knowing what exactly Radulov is asking for, but reports, including one from TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, seem to indicate that Radulov could be looking to cash in on free agency with a long-term deal that could pay him up to $7 million per season. Of course, asking price and actual price can be two different things, but that Radulov is apparently to be compensated well above the $5.75 million he made this past season could mean it’s a no-can-do for the Canadiens.

One major reason why is Montreal simply doesn’t have the cap space. At his past cap hit, the Canadiens could make a Radulov deal work, but Montreal is heading into this summer facing the prospect of new contracts for two key players in Alexander Galchenyuk and Andrei Markov. So, despite the Canadiens boasting upwards of $21 million in cap space, contracts for the two could leave Montreal with little money to bring back Radulov and bolster the rest of the roster. That’s not to mention there has to be some concern about the long-term impact of a potential six-or-more year deal with Radulov.

It’s not as if time is on the Canadiens’ side, either. In four days, on July 1, the free agency period will officially open, making Radulov free to sign with whatever team he chooses, be it Montreal or otherwise. And despite the reported asking price for Radulov, there is interest. TSN’s LeBrun noted Monday that Radulov has at the very least been contacted by 10 teams, and you can rest assured that a few of those clubs are well aware of — and willing to meet — Radulov’s contract ask.

So, it’s safe to say time might be running out for Montreal if they want to ensure Radulov remains a Canadien, and that could mean the four-time KHL MVP is heading elsewhere next season. If that’s the case, which teams could make a play for Radulov?

Carolina Hurricanes

Are the Hurricanes the most obvious choice for Radulov? Absolutely not. Matter of fact, Carolina likely falls further into the category of a dark horse than that of a no-brainer contender for Radulov’s services. Yet, there may be something awfully enticing about joining up with the Hurricanes as the franchise looks to take a step out of the league’s basement and up the standings.

The acquisition and signings of Scott Darling and Trevor van Riemsdyk were two great additions for the Hurricanes, and bulking up further on the blueline and in goal is one way for Carolina to get better almost overnight. The one thing Carolina could use on top of all that, though, is someone to come in and further ignite the attack. The Hurricanes ranked 20th with 212 goals for in 2016-17, but adding Radulov could be good for another 20 or so goals out of one player, not to mention his ability as a setup man.

Carolina has more than enough money to add, too. The Hurricanes have more than $24 million in cap space, and if GM Ron Francis wants to take a look at making a splash in free agency, he absolutely can.

Dallas Stars

Dallas’ biggest needs entering the off-season weren’t additions on offense. Truth be told, adding another scorer was probably the furthest thing from GM Jim Nill’s mind once the campaign ended. However, the Stars went out and solidified their awful situation in goal by adding netminder Ben Bishop, and then proceeded to add to their blueline, another area of concern, on Monday by acquiring Marc Methot. Dallas isn’t necessarily done adding elsewhere, but with Bishop and Methot on board, Nill can certainly think about his offense again.

And when he does so, maybe he considers Radulov. It may sound unthinkable and as though it couldn’t possibly work, but the money is actually there right now. Dallas has roughly $18.4 million in cap space and only a handful of RFA deals to worry about. When the RFA contracts are in place, there could still well north of $10 million for Nill to use on free agents. Radulov would certainly fit, too, especially if he the Stars want to load up with a Radulov, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn line.

There’s no doubt Dallas will want to avoid a $7 million cap hit, but the Stars could maybe bring Radulov in for less given he’ll have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. And the money can work short-term with more than $16 million coming off the books following the 2017-18 campaign.

Florida Panthers

Panthers GM Dale Tallon made some changes to the club at the expansion draft, giving up offense by moving Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights. That’s scoring that will need to be replaced and there aren’t many players who stand to match that production by their lonesome. Radulov is one player who may be able to do so, however. His 54-point campaign isn’t exactly point-per-game level, but Radulov on a line Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov could be absolutely lethal.

Like Carolina, the money is more than there, too. Florida enters the off-season with upwards of $20 million in cap space and the only signings that are musts at this point are those of RFAs Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk. The rest of the cap space can be allocated as the Panthers see fit.

Some may suggest that Florida won’t be willing to fork over the money for Radulov, but it’s hard to say that would be the case. The Panthers carried nearly $64 million in cap space at season’s end in 2016-17. Their current cap hit is nearly $10 million lower. Florida can afford to add, and Radulov could be a target.

New York Rangers

If Radulov wants a chance to make a big splash in a high-profile market, he could have that opportunity as a Broadway Blueshirt, and you can be sure the Rangers will be looking to add some scoring punch this summer. That’s especially true after shipping out Derek Stepan, who scored 17 goals and 55 points this past season, and failing to add anyone to replace him to this point in the off-season. One of the Rangers’ strengths this past season was offense — only three teams scored more — and New York won’t want to sacrifice that.

Adding Radulov would be one way to replace Stepan’s offense in a hurry, too. The two put up similar numbers this past season and Radulov is the more pure offensive talent. Put him to work on the power play or set him up alongside someone who can finish and Radulov could crack the 60-point plateau next season, no problem.

The one concern here, however, is if the money would be spent in the wrong place. Following the Stepan trade, the Rangers need some help down the middle. It’s not that Kevin Hayes and Mika Zibanejad aren’t talented, but there has to be some options up front. Right now, after Hayes and Zibanejad, Boo Nieves and Gabriel Fontaine are arguably third and fourth centers on the Rangers’ depth chart.

Vegas Golden Knights

Compared to the other teams on this list, the Golden Knights don’t have a lot of money to spend. In fact, they have the least, as they sit roughly $8.7 million under the spending ceiling. What the Golden Knights have working in their favor, though, is that their breadth of defensemen opens them up for a trade or two and the cap space that comes along with it. That could clear up just enough money to make sure Radulov fits safely, and quite possibly snugly, under the cap. The likes of Mikhail Grabovski and David Clarkson hitting the long-term injured reserve will also help the cap situation.

Vegas would be an awfully interesting fit for Radulov, too. Sure, he’d have to give up the chance to win right away, but he would guarantee himself to be one of the go-to players for the Golden Knights for the next few seasons. Vegas needs offensive talent and Radulov fits the bill.

Radulov could also be the right player to come in and suit up alongside Vadim Shipachyov as he makes his transition to the NHL from the KHL. Shipachyov was a sought after free agent who shocked the league by signing in Vegas, and giving him a somewhat familiar face to play with could go a long way in getting Shipachyov settled.

Finally, the long-term nature of a Radulov deal likely doesn’t pose a concern for the Golden Knights. Vegas’ projected cap hit for 2018-19? Less than $29 million. GM George McPhee will all the wiggle room under the cap that he can handle.

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