At least two prominent members of the Nashville Predators intend to reach out to absent forward Alexander Radulov in the coming weeks.
Coach Barry Trotz said he hopes to have an informal conversation with the high-scoring forward who ignored his contract with the team last summer and signed a more lucrative deal with an upstart league in his native Russia.
The flashy goal scorer was sorely missed this year, especially with the team struggling to find the back of the net early in the season and then just missing a playoff spot by a few points.
General manager David Poile said he and Radulov’s agent, Jay Grossman, have agreed to a more formal meeting to discuss Radulov’s current situation and future prospects. No time or place has been set for that encounter, but Poile said it could take place during the World Championships in Switzerland, which begin in fewer than two weeks.
“At some point we either have to kiss and make up, and bring him back into the fold or we have to trade him because he is an asset, or leave him over (in Russia) if that’s where he wants to play and let him play over there,” Poile said. “Those are the three options.”
Radulov signed a three-year deal with a team in the Continental Hockey League (KHL) last July despite the fact that he had one year remaining on his contract with the Predators. Earlier this month, that league and its players association agreed to a 5-20 percent reduction in salaries (based upon the size of the contract) for next season.
His deal with the Predators was suspended, which meant the franchise retained his rights for one NHL season whenever — or if — the 22-year-old decides to play in the NHL again.
“My strong belief is that he wants to play in the best league in the world and that’s not there,” Poile said. “His road to the National Hockey League has to be through Nashville.
“I’ve talked to his agent (Grossman), and they want to talk.”
Radulov had 48 points (22 goals, 26 assists) in 52 games for Salavat Ufa, which won the regular season but was upset in the first round of the playoffs.
The previous season, he had 26 goals and 32 assists in 81 games for Nashville. Only one player (Jason Arnott) had more goals, and two (J.P. Dumont and Ryan Suter) had more assists for the Predators in the recently completed 2008-09 season.
Nashville players, most recently Arnott, have been critical of Radulov’s decision and have publicly questioned whether the 2004 first-round pick would be welcomed back into the locker room.
“I’m sure we’d have to have a lot of talks about it,” Arnott said a day after the final game. “…That’s something we’d had to discuss at a later point if he was thinking about coming back.”
Trotz said he kept up with Radulov’s progress throughout the season through a friend who coached in the KHL.
The Predators coach said he would attempt to talk personally with Radulov at the World Championships where Trotz will be an assistant coach for Canada. However, Canada will play its preliminary round contests in Zurich and Kloten while Russia will play in Berne.
“When he’s over there, I’m definitely going to make a point — if I get a chance — to go and talk to him and to see how he’s playing,” Trotz said. “I’m very curious about that.”
Poile made it clear that he does not expect a quick resolution when he and Grossman finally do meet face-to-face.
“It’s not an easy dynamic we’re dealing with,” he said. “There’s the money issue, his contract, which was an issue last year and is an issue this year. We have to account for the fact that he left us high and dry at a very difficult time. It’s an uncomfortable situation.
“It’s something that we’re going to explore. We’re going to talk to him and we’ll make the right decision for our organization.”