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Avalanche Roundtable: Are Alexander Radulov and Colorado a Good Fit?

AJ Haefele Avatar
May 29, 2015

 

Welcome back to the Avalanche Roundtable, where members of the BSN Avalanche staff sits down to go back and forth about topics that are of interest to Colorado Avalanche fans. Today’s topic addresses the report from yesterday that the Avalanche, specifically Head Coach Patrick Roy, had reached out to Russian forward Alexander Radulov about returning to North America to resume his NHL career.

The whole staff gets involved today as I posed questions about the different facets of the Radulov situation that make it such an interesting potential marriage. Let’s get to it!

The Avalanche are supposedly connected to KHL star Alexander Radulov, with Head Coach Patrick Roy allegedly calling him and expressing interest in him coming to Colorado. First question is do you like the idea of Radulov in Colorado this year?

Andi: Depending on cost, I actually do like the idea of Radulov on the Avs. While the team does have a decent crop of Top 9 wings, Duchene still needs someone to jive with, and Tanguay and Iginla aren’t going to be around for too much longer.  There’s not much coming up through the prospect system that can fill in behind those two, and Radulov’s offensive talent is undeniable. I think he’d be a good fit.

I also think that if there is one team in the NHL where Radulov would work, it’d be here in Colorado. Roy was his coach in Juniors, and they won the Memorial Cup together in 2006.  Radulov has had some off-ice disciplinary issues in the past, but there seems to be a lot of respect between the two of them.  Is that respect enough to keep him from being a distraction?  It’s a risk, but in my opinion, it’s one worth taking.

But again, it depends on cost.  The Avs still need a top defenseman, and they might have to acquire him via UFA.  That’s not going to be cheap, not to mention the contract extensions for players like Johnson, Barrie, O’Reilly, and MacKinnon that are coming due next summer.  As much as I’d like to see Radulov in Colorado, it can’t be at the cost of those other assets.

Casey: Radulov is a team-changing talent, but everywhere he’s played, he left a bad reputation behind. He’s still widely disliked in Nashville after his on-again-off-again relationship with the Predators. He violated curfew during the playoffs among other things. I find it difficult to believe Roy and Sakic would stand for someone like that. While Roy may have coached him in juniors, is that relationship enough to mitigate the potential for off-ice issues?

Radulov has a reputation as a diva, but that’s a label that kind of nags at me on a personal level–it tends to get applied to players from some locations far more than others. Would his off-ice issues have been such a story if he wasn’t Russian?

He’s had some years to mature, at least, but I see him signing with the Avs as unlikely simply because he’s been making $9.2 million annually in the KHL. Even if the team paid him Matt Duchene levels of money, he’d be taking a substantial salary cut.

Cheryl: Well, Radulov is certainly an extremely talented hockey player, and getting a guy with his skills in the top 6 would put even more kick into an offensively-minded team. There’s no denying the benefits the Avs would reap from such a potent scorer. That said, his output has not been consistent in the KHL; he has only pulled off this season’s level of scoring one other year. Generally, he’s about a point-per-game player, and that’s the KHL. Will it translate to the NHL again?

Unfortunately, there’s another catch with Radulov: penalty minutes. Radulov has been tearing up the scoreboard in more ways than one, and while many people value penalty minutes, the kind Radulov takes isn’t the kind you really want for your team. Putting your team down a man as often as he does is death in the NHL, especially for a team that lacks a rock solid penalty kill.

The Avs also don’t need the additional distraction of a guy who can’t commit to his team, who’ll bolt when it suits him, contract be damned. Ryan O’Reilly has provided enough of a distraction in that area, and his antics aren’t even close to what Radulov has pulled.

In short, I love the offense he could provide, but I don’t think it’s worth it in the long run. If Radulov was a defenseman with positionally comparable skills, I’d be more open to it as the Avs desperately need a top-pairing partner for Erik Johnson. But as it is, I’d have to say nope, let’s pass.

Austin: I’m late to the party, and I think those who have tread these waters before me have done a good job of hitting the big issues. I’ll keep it short and sweet with a metaphor. To me, adding Radulov would be like wanting to add some honey to the Avalanche roster. His talents joining forces with the core already in place would be sweet. However, to get that honey, they would be putting a beehive in the living room.

Bees scare me. I am extremely wary of the idea of bringing in Radulov, which is saying something due to the talent and buzz he would bring to Colorado.

Let’s back up the maturity issues for a second. Radulov left the Predators after his second season, going back to Russia for four years before making a return for a Predators playoff run. During that run, like Casey alluded to, Radulov was suspended for breaking team curfew the night before a playoff game. In the KHL, Radulov has also attacked a referee and a coach.

Are you comfortable with Roy being able to manage that history of immaturity and do the Avalanche have a strong enough leadership core to handle Radulov’s outsized persona?

Cole: Can Patrick Roy manage a personality like Radulov’s? It’s tough to say, but I’ll tell you one thing. If the Avs are pursuing a contract with him they must be very confident that they can get him to play by the rules. Thus far in their tenure Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy have worked hard to distance themselves from players with a reputation for poor off ice discipline.

In the months after J.S. Giguere berated his teammates for focusing on their “Vegas Trip” the new Avalanche front office immediately cut ties with renowned party boy Shane O’Brien.

Over the next year they traded Steve Downie amidst rumors of locker room friction, and then P.A. Parenteau, whose work ethic was questioned numerous times last season. Long story short, for Patrick Roy to go chasing a player with downsides so similar to those he’s jettisoned looks like a pretty good vote of confidence from the Avalanche coach.

Andi:  The only person I can think of with a persona bigger than Radulov’s is Roy. I have a feeling that’s a big part of why they meshed during Radulov’s days in Quebec. The Avs’ bench boss does have some weaknesses, but his ability to use his charisma and leadership to bring out the best in his players is certainly not one of them.  It’s a rare gift, and he uses it to its full advantage.  It’s served him very well so far.

I don’t know if Radulov can succeed in the NHL culture, but I do believe he has the best chance to do so under a coach he knows, respects, and has the ability to match his personality blow for blow.  Add in a few more years of maturity since his last stay in the NHL, a group of players close to his age, and a system that doesn’t stifle his desire to play a go-big-or-go-home style offense, and I think we’ll see fewer incidents than we did in Nashville.

Casey: Cole makes an excellent point regarding the confidence the team would have to have in him if a contract were being discussed. The new management has made it clear from the get-go that they have zero interest in players who aren’t willing to toe the party line.

Cheryl: Like Casey and Cole, I don’t think Roy and Sakic would pursue a contract if they thought his past behavior would be an issue. I also believe that Roy would be able to manage him, either by eliminating the behavior or jettisoning him off the team. That said, why risk it?

What sort of damage might Radulov do to the locker room? He holds himself in extremely high regard (some might even say it’s an inflated sense of self worth); if he takes that ego into the locker room without giving the younger players who have established themselves as leaders their due respect, Roy loses the entire locker room. Is it really worth jeopardizing the cohesion this team has created for an unknown? I say nyet.

Austin: Back to my metaphor, this only works if Roy can be an excellent beekeeper. Roy and Radulov have a successful history working together, but as much as I like Roy’s ability to manage players and personalities, I just don’t trust Radulov.

As Cheryl pointed out above, just because Roy and Radulov have gotten along in the past, doesn’t mean Radulov and the rest of the team will. As in the movie Miracle, Roy doesn’t want Landeskog, Duchene, and Johnson showing up in his office saying, “get rid of this guy, we’re a family”.

Moving away from the maturity issues, Casey brought up the issue of Radulov’s $9.2M salary this past season. He’s been among the top five highest paid KHL players for the majority of his career. Should the Avalanche seriously pursue Radulov, what do you envision as an appropriate salary for him?

Casey: With the financial difficulties the KHL is facing, Radulov might be looking at a salary reduction whether he returns to the NHL or not. Sponsors have been pulling out left and right–as of last year, some players and coaches were getting paid late and some weren’t getting paid at all. Combine that with the exchange rate of the Ruble vs. the US Dollar and an NHL club has a nice potential bargaining chip in its pocket.

It’ll be up to Radulov if he thinks an offer in the $5-7m/year range from a secure source is a better gamble than a massive KHL contract that may pay out. He’d likely be a priority for a KHL club due to his superstar status (he just finished a league-leading season there), though.

The biggest thing Radulov would have to tangle with in a potential contract is term. I can’t see an NHL team willing to offer him more than a year, maybe two, lest he pull a Cinderella again.

Cheryl: Casey has a good point about the financial difficulties in the KHL. Radulov might be more willing to take a large pay cut for a guaranteed salary than push for more and get stuck back in the KHL with the possibility of rubber paychecks.

As for the Avs, I wouldn’t go higher than $6M for sure and would be happier with $5M. Less is even better. I also wouldn’t go more than two years, preferably one. But then, I wouldn’t sign him in the first place, so…

Andi:  I’m sure the Avs would like to keep it a short contract, but is that really going to be enough to bring Radulov back to the States?  Most UFAs do tend to factor in term since NHL contracts are guaranteed.  If he’s already looking at a probable pay cut, will he take a short deal as well?

Austin: If Radulov’s motivation is money, he will be in the KHL next season. Despite the KHL’s financial struggles, the NHL won’t come close to being able to offer the same compensation, especially given Radulov’s tenuous track record. Sports agents are generally clever, and this may all be a ruse to ensure Radulov gets another big fat payday in Russia.

If Radulov’s motivation is to play in the world’s best hockey league, and try and win a Stanley Cup, then the NHL is the place for him. It’s certainly possible that Radulov has that itch, and it makes sense that he would look at Patrick Roy as a potential ticket back to North America.

From the Avalanche perspective, my appropriate salary for Radulov would be — don’t give him one. If they must, for for the love of Russia, it better be a one-year contract to prove his commitment. Make Radulov play by your rules, not his.

Cole: I think I’ve become Radulov’s biggest advocate in our roundtable. If Alexander Radulov decides to come over from the KHL it’s going to come with a pay cut. I think that’s common sense to the point where we can assume he and his agent understand they are taking a pay cut no matter what should they come to the NHL. As Casey summed up nicely, the choice for Radulov is less money that’s 100% guaranteed, or a big contract in a league where teams have gone months without paying their players.

As others have brought up there are salary cap concerns that come with Radulov’s addition. Putting it simply, his contract absolutely cannot interfere with the Avalanche spending money to improve their defense. That said, the Avs do have some financial flexibility in the next two seasons when it comes to Alex Tanguay and Jamie McGinn. Should Radulov replace one of those wingers with a reasonable sub $5 million cap hit, the Avalanche would still have plenty of cap space to extend essential players and improve their defensive unit.

No doubt adding Radulov is a high risk high reward move and negotiating his contract is a tricky proposition.  At an absolute maximum, I think the Avalanche could give Radulov up to $4M annually over 3 years, or $5M over 2 years.

That does it for this week’s Avalanche Roundtable. How do you feel about Radulov in Colorado? Let us know below!

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