The Montreal Canadiens just went through a potentially franchise altering offseason that saw them keep the coach and GM that presided over one of the biggest collapses in franchise history, trade the most popular player on the team (P.K. Subban), and then go all in on toughening up the lineup by trading for Andrew Shaw.
It was such a crazy offseason that the addition of Alexander Radulov, perhaps one of the most intriguing and fascinating moves of the offseason by any team in the league, has almost completely slid under the radar and been forgotten about. And he might be one of the most important players on the team when it comes to the Canadiens’ success this season.
Nearly a decade ago Radulov looked to be on his way to stardom in the NHL before he abruptly left for the KHL, a league he dominated for the better part of the past eight years minus his brief return to Nashville (that also had some controversy with it).
Now he is back for another run at the NHL.
While Shaw, one of the team’s other big offseason additions, was getting ejected from his preseason debut with his new team on Tuesday night, Radulov had a dramatically different night on the ice. He not only recorded a pair of points by scoring an early goal and then assisting on a Nathan Beaulieu goal, but he also looked like a top-line player.
Yes, it is only one preseason game. But it was at the very least a small glimpse at the potential that Radulov could bring to a team that so desperately needs what he could provide.
What’s especially amazing about all of this is that a player like Shaw is going to be the one that gets the bulk of the attention because of the way he plays and the energy he brings.
Beaulieu heaped a massive amount of praise on both Radulov and Shaw for the way the played on Tuesday, pointing out that both bring elements the team had lacked. But he seemed to be especially fired up by Shaw’s performance. He hit on all of the key points that come with a player like Shaw, especially when it came to his gesturing to the crowd for more noise during his fight with Nathan Walker.
“I love it. He is my favorite player,” said Beaulieu. “That was awesome. That’s also something we were probably missing the last couple of years, a little bit of emotion. That is something he brings. I absolutely love seeing that. He is instantly a fan favorite just from doing that. Although it’s a preseason game, he’s a physical guy, he’s passionate about hockey. I can guarantee you everyone in this room absolutely loved it.”
“He’s just such an emotional wrecking ball, he drove me absolutely crazy last year, for him to just step in he is so comfortable already. The way he can get 20,000 people behind him like that, he is a special individual.”
That is all well and good, and there is definitely an emotional element to all of this that Shaw does bring, and you can not completely toss things like that that out the window. But the No. 1 priority here is still putting the puck in the net and scoring goals. That is the big thing that has been missing for the Canadiens over the past two years, a window where the team only scored 430 goals. That number put them 20th in the league over that stretch. Of the nine teams below them, only two of them (Vancouver and Philadelphia) qualified for the playoffs in either those seasons (one appearance for each, with neither advancing beyond the first round).
The lesson here: You can not succeed being as punchless as the Canadiens have been offensively the past two years.
Even with players like Subban (before the trade), Max Pacioretty (one of the NHL’s best goal scorers) and Alex Galchenyuk (already a 30-goal scorer whose best days should still be ahead of him) offense has been a major struggle for the team. They need to score more, and you are not going to emotion the puck into the net. Whether it comes down to the system put in place by the coaching staff, the talent assembled by the front office, or some other intangible factor, the team has simply not scored enough goals and has fallen into a hole where it will only go as far as a healthy Carey Price can take it.
Fortunately for Montreal, Price looks ready to go after missing almost all of the 2015-16 season due to injury. But for as good as he is, he still should not need to be constantly put into a position where he has to be nearly perfect every night for his team to have a chance to win.
Even though Radulov might not be the player he was eight years ago (he is, after all, 30 years old instead of 22) or score the way he did against lesser competition in the KHL, he is still a big-time NHL talent that can be a top-line player.
He is still a player that brings a potential element that the Canadiens have lacked more than emotion and fire.
His ability to be that player (and he has to get the opportunity from the coach, and not get instantly glued to the bench the first time something goes wrong with him on the ice) might have a much bigger impact on the success of the Canadiens than almost anybody else not named Price.