It’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.