It’s one thing to stick to your guns when the stakes are low, but what about when the heat is really on?
The Dallas Stars announced that top-line winger Alexander Radulov will be a healthy scratch for Tuesday’s game against the New York Rangers after arriving late to the morning skate.
As Mike Heika of the Stars’ website notes, this healthy scratch is consistent with team policy, as Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg, Cody Eakin, and Erik Cole* have all been punished similarly during Jim Nill’s time as GM.
* – Anyone else forget that Cole got a fairly recent run with the Stars?
Plenty of Stars fans question the decision to follow through with this policy. A mere look at the standings (even more at the Playoff Push) helps justify some of that concern.
This isn’t the first time Radulov’s been suspended by his team, and it’s also not his first run-in with Stars head coach Jim Montgomery.
During the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Radulov missed curfew with the Nashville Predators, prompting Barry Trotz to bench him for two postseason games. Trotz stated that Radulov needed to address issues both on and off the ice.
“He knows he has to change in a lot of aspects, on ice, off ice, the way he trains, all those types of things,” Trotz said, via The Tennessean “We had a long conversation on that. He seems to be very committed to that now.”
That incident inspired some real doubts about Radulov as a “locker room guy,” but since returning to the NHL from a KHL sojourn – first with Montreal, then Dallas – he’s largely drawn rave reviews for his work ethic.
Still, there was that heated moment in mid-January, when Montgomery benched a displeased Radulov. To his credit, Radulov owned up to the situation, supporting the rookie head coach.
“I got benched,” Radulov said, according to the Dallas Morning News. “It was the right decision by coach. I wasn’t playing good and I talked back with Monty and he basically sit me until the end of the period. It’s the right decision and I can’t do that. It’s been an issue in my career, but I got to learn from it. I got to be better.”
Looking forward, this could easily blow over, or just as easily fester.
The second-guessing would likely be far quieter if the Stars beat the Rangers, as you’d expect. If Dallas loses – particularly if the Stars fall out of playoff position – then you’d anticipate louder grumbles.
It’s also crucial for the coach and player to patch things up. Montgomery didn’t elaborate on the decision, and Radulov didn’t speak with reporters on Tuesday, so at this point it’s a guessing game regarding where their relationship is at. Overall, though, no press conferences might be a wise move after that series of PR gaffes that ended 2018 with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin being thrown under the bus.
For all we know, keeping Radulov on track (and convincing Montgomery to give him a clean slate) could be the difference between making or missing the playoffs. The winger has almost a point-per-game this season (51 in 54 games), and tilts the ice in the Stars’ favor when he’s out there.
(Aside: considering just how brutally long an 82-game season is, it’s honestly surprising that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often. Then again, maybe other teams are just more lenient?)
If nothing else, Stars management has been … courageous this season. Was this the right choice, or would you have leaned more in the direction of, say, merely fining Radulov?
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.