When a team is on a losing streak, desperation can start to climb. Sometimes, that brings the best out of teams and management. Sometimes people get fired, or traded, or someone becomes a scapegoat.
The Dallas Stars made the eyebrow-raising decision to scratch winger Alexander Radulov heading into Thursday’s game against divisional rival Winnipeg. The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro reports that head coach Jim Montgomery explained that the move is “best for” the team, while Radulov declined the chance to comment.
If you make only a surface-level look at recent results, it’s easy to see what Montgomery is thinking.
Most obviously, the Stars are on a four-game losing streak, and one would argue that they might need a jolt. Putting a top player in street clothes could serve as a shock to the system to other players who might be perceived as underachieving — at least that’s the way such logic would go.
Before the Stars’ losing streak, Radulov scored two goals and one assist. During this four-game skid, Radulov has failed to score a point.
Maybe just as important, if not more, to Montgomery is that Radulov’s also taken three penalties (six PIM) during that skid. People have also noted that Radulov responded to his last healthy scratch with a hat trick.
… But I can’t say I really sign off on the move.
For one thing, Radulov’s been a scapegoat far too often during his underappreciated career, with the most memorable flare-up stemming from Barry Trotz’s harsh reaction to him missing curfew during a Predators playoff run many moons ago. Things … didn’t really work out in the long run there for the Predators, or Radulov.
Now, sure, it’s true that Radulov isn’t getting the same box score results as he had during his previous two seasons with the Stars. After scoring 27 and 29 goals along with 72 points in each of 2017-18 and 2018-19, Radulov has 15 points through 29 games, good for just a 43-point pace.
There are a lot of context clues hinting at why his production is down.
While Tyler Seguin remains his most common forward line mate at even-strength, Radulov’s spent about as much time with Seguin as without him, versus the past two seasons, where he spent about two-thirds of his ice time with Seguin.
Radulov’s underlying stats indicate that he’s still a tremendous offensive talent, while providing an underrated defensive impact:
It’s understandable if the Stars are a little disappointed with his production, but with reduced ice time compared to previous seasons (he’s averaging 17:16 minutes per night after logging about 20 minutes per game during his first two Stars campaigns) and less time with Seguin, it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s a drop-off.
That’s especially true since, frankly, Montgomery isn’t exactly unleashing the hounds. This Stars team can be sometimes agonizingly passive, and so it’s tough to be surprised when production is spotty.
(Hence why many of us hockey observers have been so frustrated when Jamie Benn and especially Seguin get thrown under the bus.)
Perhaps there’s a way to get more out of Radulov. Frankly, while I don’t really buy the armchair psychology of “motivating” Radulov through a healthy scratch, there’s a solid chance he’ll return and get back on track. Considering the fact that Radulov is 33, you could dress it up as (likely accidental) “load management.”
Not to blow any minds, but you have a better chance to win when you put better players on the ice, though, so I can’t say that I love this move. It doesn’t seem like Radulov thinks it’s all that rad, either.
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.