It has been clear to David Poile all along that the only thing that could prevent Alexander Radulov’s return to the Nashville Predators was the whim of the player.
“In terms of us having availability for him at the end of the season or the playoffs, the answer is ‘yes,’” the Predators general manager told The City Paper in early February.
Amid ever-increasing rumors that Radulov intends to do just that — as soon as this week — NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly made it perfectly clear to the entire hockey world Tuesday when he spoke at the league’s general managers meetings in Florida that there are no procedural or administrative issues that would prohibit the player’s return to the Predators.
"He's a player under contract," Daly told reporters, according to NHL.com. "He has contractual obligations to Nashville and it would be unfair, I think, to the club who has the benefit and right to his contractual obligations not to be able to bring him back."
As reports out of Russia indicated that Radulov, Nashville’s first-round pick in the 2004 draft, is on the verge of a return to the NHL, some reasoned that he would be subject to waivers and, therefore, not necessarily available to Nashville either before the end of the regular season or for the playoffs.
Rule 13.23 was adopted several years ago to prevent clubs from using European professional leagues as de facto minor leagues and, more importantly, a way to circumvent salary cap regulations. It stipulates that a player who competes for a European team and then signs with an NHL team in the same season must be exposed to waivers first and, therefore, eligible to be claimed by another franchise.
Before that, a player could sign with a European club and play all or most of the season. Once that season ended, that same player could sign with an NHL team at a critical juncture and cost that NHL team only the salary he earned over the remainder of the season.
The rule does not apply to Radulov because his entry level contract with the Predators, which has one remaining season, predates his deal with the Kontinental Hockey League, where he has played for the past four seasons. In that time he helped his team win a championship, was a playoff MVP and a two-time league MVP and racked up 254 points (91 goals, 163 assists) in 210 games.
From a procedural standpoint, Radulov has been considered part of Nashville’s roster the entire time. He simply has been classified as “suspended” because he had not satisfied the full term of his contract with the team.
"I don't view this really any different than a player under contract who has been injured," Daly said. "Even if he has been injured for three years, if he's healthy Day 1 of the Stanley Cup Final he should be able to play."
Poile got the answers to the questions of Radulov’s availability long ago. Tuesday, he spoke like a man who expected his prayers for a high-scoring forward to be answered as well.
"In my gut, if there is going to be a time, it should be now," Poile told the media covering the GM meetings. "All the things are aligned. His playoffs are over. The hurdles are cleared. He can burn off a year [of his contract] and get himself to [restricted] free agency.
“But more importantly than that, I have always felt he was going to come back. … I never fully understood why he went (to the KHL) in the first place. I've been convinced whether it was this year, next year or three years from now that he was coming back to the NHL."
There’s nothing to prevent him from doing so.