How Alex Radulov's defection from the Predators to the KHL created 'The Russian Factor'

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for radulov.jpgIt’s a distant memory for most hockey fans who don’t swear an allegiance to the Nashville Predators, but Alex Radulov’s defection to the KHL – right in the middle of his entry-level deal with the Predators – was at one time an anomaly.

OK, it still is to some extent because most defectors wait until their contracts expire before they jump to Russia. Still, it was uncommon at that time for a young candidate entering his prime to leave the NHL for a foreign league. Most of the time, it was the other way around, like the case of Evgeni Malkin and many others.

Matt Reitz of A View From the Cheap Seats brings up a great point: we’re still seeing the impact of Radulov’s defection years later.

When the deal went down, it was a big story-but like anything else it faded away when the next big story grabbed our attention. But looking back, the moment when Alexander Radulov decided take his talents to Russia might have been one of the biggest hockey culture changing moments of the last decade.

It changed the landscape. And whether we know it or not, we’ve been living in a different world ever since.

Since Radulov left for the KHL, we’ve had a new term introduced into our hockey lexicon: The Russian Factor. No longer was a Russian player drafted solely for their merits on the ice. Now, they would be measured against a different standard. Are they talented? That question was just as important as another: Are they committed to playing in the NHL? Some might think it’s a silly question to ask a prospect who wants to play in the best league in the world-but answer that question wrong and a player will have a helluva time trying to find someone willing to take a chance on him.

Reitz points out that the biggest impact might be felt in the way teams draft Russian players. Many people believe that the Washington Capitals landed one of the steals of the NHL Draft when they chose Evgeny Kuznetsov, but others wonder if players of his caliber will tolerate the league-enforced rookie minimum contracts (and there’s also some concerns about character, but that’s a whole other discussion).

It’s been an interesting give-and-take between the NHL and the mysterious-yet-sporadically-deep-pocketed KHL. Without a solid transfer agreement, there will be worries from the North American side that they’ll throw a high draft pick away on a gamble who will never play for their team.

While Radulov hints that he might come back to the NHL (and the Predators, for their part, are being PR-friendly by implying that the door isn’t closed for his return), the damage has been done. Teams will be weary of drafting a young Russian player until a transfer agreement is put in place. In that way, Radulov is one of the NHL’s most prominent recent trendsetters.

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    Stars give Lindell two-year extension

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    More news out of Dallas, where the Stars have signed defenseman Esa Lindell to a two-year, $4.4-million contract extension.

    From the release:

    Lindell, 23, posted 18 points (6-12=18) in 73 games played for Dallas during the 2016-17 regular season, his first full season in the NHL. He finished second on the team by averaging 21:52 of time on ice per game and his +8 plus/minus rating finished third. Additionally, he finished second on the team with 119 blocked shots and tied for fifth with 93 hits.

    The Stars still have a couple of restricted free agents on the back end. Both Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are arbitration-eligible. Lindell was not.

    Earlier today, it was reported that the Stars were buying out goalie Antti Niemi.

    Dallas also signed forward Mark McNeill to a one-year, two-way contract extension. The 24-year-old was acquired from Chicago in the Johnny Oduya trade on Feb. 28.

    Lightning extend Gourde — two years, $2 million

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    Yanni Gourde has cashed in on an impressive 20-game cameo with Tampa Bay this season.

    Gourde signed a two-year, $2 million extension on Monday, the Bolts announced. The deal came after the 25-year-old scored six goals and eight points in 20 games, while averaging 15:22 TOI per night.

    Undrafted out of the Quebec League, Gourde has been a terrific AHL player since catching on with the Tampa Bay organization a few years ago.

    He was instrumental in Syracuse’s run to the Calder Cup final this year — scoring 27 points in 22 games — and, given his new deal is of the one-way variety, seems primed to spend next year with the Lightning.

    “It’s an unbelievable feeling to sign that kind of a deal knowing where I’ve come from,” Gourde said, per NHL.com. “It’s the organization that trusted me very early in my career, and I thank them for that.”

    Carolina’s strategy of flipping picks for players ‘just didn’t pan out’

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    In late May, the ‘Canes looked like a team primed to trade some draft picks.

    GM Ron Francis kicked off proceedings by sending one of his 11 picks — a third-rounder — to Chicago for goalie Scott Darling. Shortly thereafter, Francis said his club had “the open for business sign out there,”suggesting he was ready to wheel and deal.

    But said wheeling and dealing never occurred.

    “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks,” Francis said after he selected nine players at the draft, per ‘Canes Country. “We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.”

    Prior to landing in Chicago, it was obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters was to add pieces that’d help get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

    “I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

    As many clubs experienced at the draft, trades weren’t easy to orchestrate. It was a stark contrast to the flurry of action that proceeded the event — Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, huge shakeups in both Arizona and Chicago.

    The perceived weakness of said draft could’ve played a role in the lack of movement. It’s also worth noting that Francis did use one of his picks, a fifth-rounder, for Vegas to select Connor Brickley at the expansion draft.

    And, to be clear, this doesn’t mean Carolina still can’t add players. Free agency opens on Saturday. But draft weekend certainly feels like an opportunity missed, given this year’s UFA market doesn’t project to be very strong.

    Report: Stars to buy out Antti Niemi

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    The Antti Niemi era in Dallas is mercifully over.

    Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars will place Niemi on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract. The buyout will result in a $1.5 million cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

    Niemi, 33, joined the Stars in 2015 with the hope he’d form an effective tandem with Kari Lehtonen.

    But the experiment was a dismal failure. In 85 games over two seasons, Niemi registered a .900 save percentage, and the Stars responded last month by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth almost $30 million.

    GM Jim Nill had hoped that one of Niemi or Lehtonen could be traded in the wake of the Bishop signing.

    Lehtonen, 33, is still under contract for another year at a cap hit of $5.9 million. He had a .902 save percentage last season, higher than Niemi’s .892.