Offseason questions in regard to Alexander Radulov are nothing new for the Nashville Predators.
For the first time in years, though, those questions have changed.
No longer need anyone wonder when — or if — he will rejoin the franchise that drafted him 15th overall in 2004. He answered that one when he showed up in late March and added some offensive pop for the stretch run.
Now, though, there is the issue of whether or not he plans to return for a full season. Or if the franchise even wants him back.
“I don’t have the answer on that,” general manager David Poile said late last week. “I’m not even close to making the decision on that.”
Complicating matters is the very public reprimand he and left wing Andrei Konstitsyn received during the Predators’ second-round playoff series against Phoenix.
Team officials suspended the two for Game 3 after it was discovered that they had missed curfew prior to Game 2, which Nashville lost 5-3. They were kept out of the lineup for Game 4 when coach Barry Trotz elected to stick with the same group of players that won Game 3.
The Predators were eliminated in five games.
“I’ve had a lot of talks with Rads,” Trotz said. “He knows that it was wrong, and he does have remorse. He’s living a different lifestyle in a different country. It’s a different game over there and he knows that he has to make changes to how he has to play the game.
“… My first impression is, yeah he can help us. He’s a talent. He has to change a little bit of the way he plays.”
In his nine regular-season appearances, Radulov scored seven points (three goals, four assists). He added six more points (one goal, five assists) in the playoffs, which tied him for the team lead despite the fact that he missed the two contests.
“[Radulov] is a wild card on the ice [and] off the ice,” Poile said. “It doesn’t make him a bad person. But he needs to be better in a lot of areas. In the brief conversations I’ve had with him over this situation, he realizes that. Whether he can change or do something about it … we need to think about it; he needs to think about it.”
Franchise officials spent years wondering what it would be like to have Radulov back on the team.
In 2006-07 he set franchise records for goals (18) and points (37) by a rookie. The following season he finished third on the team with 58 points and was Nashville’s leading postseason scorer.
After that he spent four full seasons in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League despite the fact that he had one year remaining on the entry level deal he signed with the Predators. In that time, he set league records, won a host of individual honors and was part of a championship team.
He finally returned to Nashville after his team was eliminated from the 2012 KHL playoffs. He satisfied his contract with just 17 appearances, nine at the conclusion of the regular season and eight in the playoffs.
KHL officials have made it clear that they want — and expect — Radulov to return for the 2012-13 season.
“This is a player that — fortunately or unfortunately — has a lot of options,” Poile said. “He’s got the KHL willing, basically, to give him whatever he wants.
“…We should take some time and not make any [hasty] decisions.”
Which means they have to ask themselves some difficult questions about the value of a gifted offensive player versus the unpredictability of one who has been unreliable in more than one way.
“We really haven’t made any decision on that,” Trotz said. “And he has to make a decision. Is he going to stay with us or go back?”
“I have a feeling that he wants to stay.”