Stars’ Alexander Radulov opens up about departure from Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens' Max Pacioretty (67) celebrates with teammate Alexander Radulov after scoring against the Buffalo Sabres last season. (Graham Hughes/CP)

FRISCO, Texas — Alexander Radulov knows he broke a lot of hearts in Quebec when he signed a five-year, $31.25-million contract with the Dallas Stars in early July, but he wants Montreal Canadiens fans to know he appreciated everything they—and the organization—did for him last season.

“I’m sorry I didn’t stay in Montreal,” Radulov said after practising with the Stars on Monday. “But it was a decision that I had to make and at some point when we couldn’t figure out the negotiation or the contract that would work best for me. So that’s what happens sometimes in sports.”

What’s happened since is he’s gotten off to an exceptional start with the Stars—scoring seven goals and 19 points in the team’s first 20 games—and he appears right at home as a member of their leadership group.

When the free agency conversation window opened, just days before Radulov could officially put pen to paper on a new contract, the Stars came calling. It wasn’t just general manager Jim Nill on the line; it was captain Jamie Benn, prolific scorer Tyler Seguin and forward Jason Spezza, among others.

“Everybody called me and made me feel like they really wanted me here,” said Radulov. “[Stars coach Ken] Hitchcock called me twice on June 30 … We talked for 30 minutes.

“I was on the phone all day. It made me feel really good.”

Radulov also said Montreal was in the mix for his services right until the end, with Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin offering to match the Stars’ offer.

“It was too late, though,” the 31-year-old added.

Bergevin had insisted after losing Radulov that he had put an equitable five-year offer for him on the table prior to the opening of free agency. He had said multiple times he wanted to keep the Russian star, who came to Montreal after four years in the KHL and scored 18 goals and 54 points in 76 regular-season games before leading the team with seven points in six playoff games.

But Radulov walked away from the table and left most Canadiens fans feeling as though he had been disingenuous in his comments throughout the season about how much he desired to return to Montreal.

“To be honest with you, I wanted to stay,” he reiterated on Monday. “I wanted to stay and I really enjoyed to be there.”

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But Radulov also said that the five-year offer he was waiting for from Bergevin had come in December, when he was unprepared to sign anything, and that it had involved different salary figures than the ones he eventually settled on with Dallas.

“There was a three-year, a four-year, and a five-year offer in December, and the money was different for all three deals,” said Radulov. “But at that time I didn’t want to go and sign it. I had only had 35 games in the season. I wanted to take a chance and see. It was the middle of the season. I was thinking maybe I’ll feel better as the season goes on. Why would I force it if I could just play the whole season and then take my time and then we’ll see what’s going to be?”

What became of Radulov’s decision to play things out rather than negotiate during the season was an opportunity Stars GM Jim Nill knew he needed to take advantage of.

“I think everybody knows he’s always been a great player,” said Nill on Monday. “Even when he was over in Quebec City as a junior, we knew him even before then. He gets drafted then goes back to Russia, and he was always the top player in Russia. Leading scorer, captain of the national team.”

“Alexander’s been everything we hoped for and more,” added Nill. “He’s been good. He’s brought a high energy to our dressing room, on and off the ice. He’s got a high passion for the game you can’t beat and his skill level’s very good. He’s played well, he’s got points, and he’s been one of the leaders on the team for us, so we’ve been very happy with him. He brings life to everything.”

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Those are all the reasons that had Canadiens fans pining for Radulov to stay in Montreal.

Without him, the team has had considerable trouble scoring—they rank 28th in goals for—and is missing some of the wow-factor he brought on daily basis. His departure left a hole on the right side of their lineup, and it has to be considered a big part of the reason they come to Dallas for a game against the Stars on Tuesday sitting in 26th place in the standings.

Radulov says he’s keeping tabs on the Canadiens and believes they will be able to turn their season around, and he wants everyone in Montreal to know he’s thinking of them.

“Montreal fans are amazing and they supported me, especially last year,” Radulov said. “Thanks to the Montreal organization. Obviously they believed in me and gave me a chance to come back, and I’ll never forget it because it was hard for me to find a place where I could go.

“Thanks a lot to Marc and thanks a lot to everyone. It was great.”