BROSSARD, Quebec—Whether you’re clinging to four-year-old impressions of Alexander Radulov’s character or buying what people in Russia have to say about how he’s changed his ways, you can’t deny that Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin made one of the shrewdest signings of the day in obtaining his services on Friday.
No KHL player scored more than Radulov’s 136 points in 99 games over the last two seasons. He’s an elite talent and an edgy player who possesses a lethal shot and a remarkable set of hands.
Whether or not his ability offsets his troubled past is the true gamble in this one-year, $5.75-million deal. Radulov assured reporters on a 10-minute conference call Friday that he’s a different man than the one who walked away from his contract with Nashville in 2008, and a more mature individual than the one who ignored the Predators’ curfew on the eve of a Stanley Cup playoff game in 2012.
“I made a mistake,” said Radulov. “I’m not trying to say I wasn’t doing it or it wasn’t my mistake. Yes, I did it, and it’s real life. Time goes by and you look [back] at some of those things, what you should’ve done, what you should’ve not done and you realize some things.
“I completely know what I’m doing right now and I know what I want and I know how to do this. You have to be more on the hockey, work hard and be ready for everything.”
Bergevin didn’t just take Radulov at his word after the two had a face-to-face meeting following the conclusion of the player’s season. He reached out to CSKA Moscow’s general manager, Sergei Federov, who told him Radulov had earned respect as captain of his team.
Bergevin then consulted with recently-acquired defenceman Shea Weber, former captain of the Predators, who told his new GM that Radulov’s missteps in Nashville were a function of immaturity rather than a reflection of his character.
The risk to move forward on offering Radulov a contract was a calculated one for Bergevin.
“I believe he has matured but time will tell,” Bergevin said. “If you look at the market today, [it was] a lot of gambles. A lot of teams took gambles on longer terms.”
The top forwards on the market, Milan Lucic (Edmonton Oilers), Andrew Ladd (New York Islanders), Kyle Okposo (Buffalo Sabres), David Backes (Boston Bruins), Frans Nielson (Detroit Red Wings), Loui Eriksson (Vancouver Canucks) and Troy Brouwer (Calgary Flames), combined to secure 42 years and nearly $238 million in new contracts. None of them have the type of history Radulov does, but none of them possess his scoring pedigree, either.
Not only did Radulov accumulate 238 points in 181 games over the last four seasons in the KHL, his 47 goals and 102 points in 157 NHL games gives him a higher points-per-game average than any member of the 2016 UFA class.
“I like the skill level,” said Bergevin. “You could arguably say he was one of the highest skill-level players signed today. For sure, in my opinion, the highest skill level outside the NHL.”
The addition of Radulov, if it works as Bergevin hopes it will, could fill a hole the Canadiens have had at right wing over the past four seasons. And the prospect of watching him alongside budding centreman Alex Galchenyuk should have the Canadiens and their fans excited.
Signing Radulov was only the first of several moves Bergevin made on what he deemed a “pretty busy day.”
Al Montoya, who achieved a 12-7-3 record and .919 save percentage as Roberto Luongo’s backup goaltender with the Florida Panthers last season, was signed to a one-year, one-way deal worth $950,000.
A job as Carey Price’s auxiliary next season will come down to his ability to out-perform Mike Condon at training camp this September, said Bergevin.
Also making his way to Montreal is 6-foot-2, 205-pound defenceman Zach Redmond, who played 37 games for the Colorado Avalanche last season, scoring six points and putting up the strongest possession numbers of anyone on their blue line.
Redmond’s two-year, one-way deal carries an annual cap hit of $612,500.
Restricted free agent Daniel Carr, who scored six goals and three assists in 23 games with Montreal last season, also got a two-year, one-way deal that comes with an annual salary of $725,000.
Bergevin had some misses, too. He went hard after Lucic, who admitted his close relationship with Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli and the opportunity to play alongside generational talent Connor McDavid were tipping points in the balance between the opportunities presented by Edmonton and Montreal.
Sherbrooke, QC. native David Perron chose to return to the St. Louis Blues on a two-year, $7.5-million contract instead of accepting Bergevin’s one-year offer.
But Radulov was an ace up the GM’s sleeve — a card that helps shore up Montreal’s top-six forward group in the short-term, and one that gives them salary-cap flexibility in the long-term.
The player will have to prove it, but he might go down as the best signing on a record pay-day in NHL free agency.