Today Craig Custance and Pierre LeBrun tackle the big Alexander Radulov news, plus more. Go!
CUSTANCE: Happy Radulov Day, Pierre! It must feel like Christmas morning to hockey fans in Nashville, with Alexander Radulov informing us this morning on Twitter that he was on a plane headed to Nashville. You get the feeling from people in Nashville that, until Radulov hops over the boards during a game for the Predators, they're containing their enthusiasm. But this has the potential to be a game-changer in the Western Conference and nobody I asked about Radulov yesterday doubted that.
"I know he's a good guy and good player too," said Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk. "Lots of skill. He's one of best KHL players for [the] last three years. Big help for Nashville Predators. Not good for us."
Capitals forward Joel Ward knows the Predators well. He was one of the catalysts behind Nashville's playoff success last year and sees the addition of Radulov as a huge plus.
"Anybody that can add a 30-40 goal scorer this time of year, it's definitely a positive," Ward said. "I don't know how long he's been off but I'm sure once he gets his bearings down, he'll be an asset. This will definitely make them a strong team for sure."
Alex Ovechkin definitely seemed intrigued by the news when I gave him the update last night, after the Capitals beat Detroit, that it sounded like Radulov would be on a plane headed for Nashville today. He wondered what this meant for Radulov's future in the KHL.
"If he's coming back, it's good for him. I don't think Russia is going to be happy. They lost probably the biggest star up there," Ovechkin said. "It's all about his decision. It's his life ... the KHL, right now, is growing up. It's no doubt it's getting bigger and bigger but I still think the NHL is the best league in the world. Here are the best players."
It certainly makes things interesting for the Predators in the most crucial postseason in franchise history.
LEBRUN: Well, I think Datsyuk nailed it at the end of his comment there, saying "not good for us." The way the Wings are playing right now, and with a first-round date against Nashville likely at this point, no wonder the Wings' organization was privately fuming last week when the NHL announced its Radulov decision. If it is Preds-Wings in the first round, I can’t think of a more compelling Western Conference series. And I know you’ll be covering it. If the Preds knock out the Wings in the first round with Radulov playing a starring role, you have to wonder how that would play out in Detroit. On the Nashville end of things, I’ve had readers ask me about whether the players in the Predators' dressing room would be reticent to welcome Radulov into the fold, given that he’s parachuting in late and given the fact he bolted on them four years ago. In fact, I’m told, led by captain Shea Weber, the Preds’ players have been very supportive of Radulov returning -- focusing on the bottom line: winning now. Let’s remember the big-picture context here: the futures of Weber (RFA July 1) and fellow stud blueliner Ryan Suter (UFA July 1) are very much tied to the success of the club this season. If Radulov means a deeper run, all the better, as far as Weber and Suter are concerned.
CUSTANCE: I think chemistry is certainly a concern as is the transition from the KHL to the NHL. Jaromir Jagr made it look easy but here in Detroit I saw some of the struggles Jiri Hudler dealt with in his return from the KHL last season. It certainly wasn't instant success for Hudler. As talented as Radulov is, it might be asking too much of him to come right in and make a huge impact. But you're right, I don't think David Poile would take this risk if he didn't have the support of his team.
Let's put the Radulov news aside for a moment and look at last night's games. Our colleague and friend Katie Strang covered an interesting one last night at Madison Square Garden where there was an old-school line brawl seconds after the first drop of the puck. Sounds like John Tortorella took exception to Pete DeBoer sending out tough guys Cam Janssen, Eric Boulton and Ryan Carter to start the game. We've seen the gradual phasing out of fighting in the game but this brawl at the Garden is another sign that there's still a long way to go before that truly happens.
The Rangers picked up a big 4-2 win, becoming the first Eastern Conference team to clinch a playoff spot, but I'm curious, what did you think of the fireworks at the start?
LEBRUN: I have zero appetite for that kind of stuff anymore. Anyone who thinks that line brawl had any effect on the final outcome of the game is dreaming. And I can tell you the NHL brass is not keen on it, either. There’s not much the league can do much about it now other than perhaps a warning. You might remember the league’s 30 GMs tried to push through a new rule on staged fights a couple of years ago but it was thwarted by the NHL Players’ Association via the competition committee. I would predict the league and players will discuss this issue again come next summer via CBA talks.
I reached out to NHL executive vice president Colin Campbell this morning for his thoughts on the line brawl. He pointed to the rule that was instituted for the end of games.
"What we did with the competition committee coming out of the lockout, we crafted a new rule at the end of the game," Campbell told ESPN.com. "We put the onus on the coach and the player."
The head coach gets a $10,000 fine and the player gets an automatic one-game suspension if he incurs an instigator penalty in the last five minutes of the game.
"If the GMs find this [line brawl last night] unacceptable, maybe we’d craft it the same way at the start of the game, put the onus on both the player and the coach? Or you’d have to find a current interpretation of the rulebook," Campbell said.
CUSTANCE: I'd have no issue with that kind of rule to start the game. I wonder how things might be different right now if that line brawl happened a week before the GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., instead of the week following. I will say this, though, I certainly wouldn't mind watching a playoff series between the Rangers and Devils. There was a playoff intensity in that game last night.
I covered another game that had a playoff feel to it in Detroit where the Capitals beat the Red Wings in a game both coaches desperately wanted. Before the game, Detroit coach Mike Babcock called his team fragile, which is a far cry from the Red Wings team that broke NHL records at home earlier this season. Nicklas Lidstrom skated yesterday and is making progress in his recovery from a deep bone bruise on his foot. It certainly was strange to see him in the press box watching instead of playing last night, then carefully walking down the Joe Louis Arena steps to the locker room after the game. The injuries are definitely piling up for Detroit, with Johan Franzen (back), Darren Helm (knee) and Jonathan Ericsson (wrist) among the group of injured Red Wings. It's a serious concern for a Detroit team that has Stanley Cup aspirations. Playing a depleted lineup didn't diminish the Capitals' win, though. They bounced back from a lifeless performance against Chicago to earn a huge road win, a rarity this season for Washington.
"I can tell right now, they have a good team. I just enjoyed the game tonight," Ovechkin said after beating the Red Wings. "When I was on the bench, I saw how they play, how they control the puck. They're a great team." With Buffalo steamrolling the Lightning, a win was necessary for the Capitals' playoff hopes. They continue to cling to that No. 8 spot.
"It's nine games left," Ovechkin said. "We have to try and win all the games if we want to make the playoffs."
LEBRUN: Ovechkin, for my money, is playing his best hockey of the season right now and I was impressed with the way he led the way last night. That kind of effort just hasn’t been there most of the season. With the hard-charging Buffalo Sabres relentless in their pursuit of eighth place, the Caps desperately needed those two points in Detroit. Their five-game road trip ends Thursday night in Philadelphia, a mighty tough test again, but after that there’s light at the end of the tunnel for the Caps. They finish the season with five of their remaining eight games at the Verizon Center.
Before we end our chat for the day, back to the Wings for a moment. Lidstrom’s injury and Detroit’s struggles during it gives us a glimpse of what life will be like in Hockeytown once the legend retires. Scary, is what it is for the Wings. It puts even more pressure on GM Ken Holland to try to nab Ryan Suter in free agency July 1 if the Preds blueliner doesn’t re-sign in Nashville. But that’s a conversation for another day. We’ve got great playoff races to focus on first.