Russian gun-for-hire Alexander Radulov confirmed to national media Friday that he will be returning to the National Hockey League in 2016-17.
An unrestricted free agent, Radulov did not report to Russia’s opening camp for the IIHF World Championship, which is being held in Moscow and Saint Petersburg in May. Instead he traveled to New York to consider a future in North America.
Though this irked the Russian Hockey Federation, Radulov has reportedly been welcomed back to the national team.
The Colorado Avalanche are the believed front-runner to sign Radulov. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Radulov also has interest in the Detroit Red Wings, Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers. (Whether that interest is mutual is another story.)
The 29-year-old star forward turned down multiple contract extension offers from CSKA Moscow, the KHL club he led within one win of hoisting the 2016 Gagarin Cup last week.
Because of Radulov’s ties to Patrick Roy, who coached the star winger in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Avalanche have long been speculated as Radulov’s next stop.
Radulov’s agent, Yuri Nikolaev, told Russian outlet Championat in May 2015, that Radulov had spoken with Roy about joining the Avs in 2016-17.
Avalanche starting goaltender and fellow Russian Semyon Varlamov told Sport-Express on Friday that Colorado is “waiting for Radulov,” and Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic offered a “no comment” when asked if Radulov could be Colorado bound.
Radulov has been a dominant force in Russia since leaving the Nashville Predators in 2011-12 and inking a four-year deal with Moscow for a reported $9.2 million annually.
The winger has been good for a point per game in each of his four seasons with CSKA. This season Radulov — a two-time IIHF world champion — put up 23 goals and 42 assists in 53 games, finishing second in league scoring behind Metallurg’s Sergei Mozyakin.
In two short-lived NHL stints, Radulov scored 47 goals and notched 55 assists over 154 games.
Radulov departed the NHL under unpleasant circumstances. He and teammate Andrei Kostitsyn were memorably suspended during the Predators’ 2012 playoff run for violating curfew. Kostitsyn expressed an interest in returning to the NHL last summer.
Russia finished second to Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Championship, and several players on the silver-medal squad skated off during “O Canada,” incurring an $85,000 fine for the Russian Hockey Federation. Avalanche and Team Canada star Matt Duchene spoke out about the gesture.
Colorado, a budget team, will also be forced to make critical decisions on restricted free agents Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie, who are both due big raises this summer. Avalanche left wing Mikkel Boedker is also set to test the open market on July 1.