When the Nashville Predators went public last week with their intention to cut ties with mercurial forward Alexander Radulov, they made perfectly clear the type of team they want to — and will — be.
Under the direction of general manager David Poile and coach Barry Trotz, this is a franchise that values its philosophy and its system — the “Predator way,” as they like to say — over talent.
The thing is, talent is what wins in professional sports.
No one with the Predators denies that Radulov is a talent. It was just a few months ago that Poile described him as the best player in the world who wasn’t in the NHL. The Predators were then fortunate enough to get him into the NHL, following a four-year break, but after just nine regular-season and eight playoff games, they’ve decided they want nothing more to do with him.
Unpredictability, it seems, just does not sit well with those making the decisions for this team. And as sure as he is talented, Radulov also is unpredictable — both in good ways and bad. True, there is no guarantee he will honor his defensive responsibility each time he’s on the ice, and his understanding of a curfew is questionable, at best. But there also exists the possibility he will do something completely unexpected to produce a goal.
In most places, that’s considered a fair trade. In Nashville, it is considered grounds to pursue a trade — to be rid of someone who is capable of taking the league by storm (assuming he decides to stay here rather than return to Russia’s top professional league).
The Predators’ brain trust once again has shown it is more comfortable with a first line that features Mike Fisher, a guy who never has scored more than 25 goals in 12 NHL seasons, rather than Radulov, who scored 26 in his only full NHL season … when he was merely 21 years old.
Fisher does many of the little things right most of the time, things that help keep a team in games all the way to the finish. Radulov can deliver the big moments that electrify crowds and change games, oftentimes for the better.
Together, they could make a potent combination. Instead, the Predators are quick
to walk away from the type of player teams simply don’t find every day.
Radulov is no saint. He has caused headaches for franchise officials and teammates in the time he’s been here, as well as during his self-imposed exile.
But it takes all kinds to form a successful team.
Just look at this year’s Stanley Cup finalists. The Los Angeles Kings got a boost with the trade deadline acquisition of forward Jeff Carter, who was considered a problem in Columbus. New Jersey relied heavily on Ilya Kovalchuk, who not that long ago — like Radulov — was routinely lambasted for his perceived indifference on the defensive end.
Winning cures a lot of those issues, and it takes that type of player — someone who has shown he can score somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 goals — to win in the NHL.
Say what you will about Radulov, but the Predators brought him back late in the season to provide more offense at a time when they needed it, and he did it.
He produced seven points in his nine regular season games, a point-per-game rate of .78 that was second only to Martin Erat. He tied for the team lead in playoff scoring with six points, despite the fact that he famously was suspended for one contest and held out of a second.
Doing the job apparently is not enough if it’s not done the “Predator way.”
It’s clear that Nashville wants to be good enough to make the playoffs almost every season. Thus far, though, there is nothing to suggest the “Predator way” makes a team good enough to win a championship.