- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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The right decisions in life are often the hardest ones.
And on Tuesday, the Nashville Predators made the right call under the most excruciating circumstances.
They are down 2-0 in their second-round series with the Phoenix Coyotes. Their season hangs in the balance. They need all the offense they can muster. Yet they decided to sit their two leading scorers, Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, for Game 3 on Wednesday -- for violating a team curfew Saturday night on the eve of Game 2.
You might have noticed that both players were brutal in that game, even though Kostitsyn scored Sunday night.
"I’ve been a manager for 30 years. I care about each individual player, but I’ve never put an individual player above the team," Predators GM David Poile told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "In this case, the players violated a team rule. It’s disappointing any time a player has to miss a game because of violating a team rule, and it’s even more significant at playoff time, but the decision between the coach and myself was very easy. We have to do the right thing. Their actions spoke volumes in terms of their lack of commitment and focus to give our a club a chance to win."
Radulov has only one goal in these playoffs, although his six points (1-5) lead the team. He’s been up and down -- real good in the series-clinching win over Detroit but mostly invisible in the two losses in Phoenix.
Radulov was supposed to be more than this. The former KHL MVP in Russia was signed to be the missing offensive dynamo the Preds had craved. At times, he’s shown flashes of that. But overall, he has not had quite the impact most had expected.
Now with this lack of judgment from Radulov that forced the hand of the Predators to sit him, you wonder what the future holds for him in Nashville. He’ll be a restricted free agent July 1. You have to imagine he’s likely headed back to Russia and that the Preds would have reservations shelling out big dough to keep him. That’s certainly my guess.
But Poile warned against overreaching conclusions because of this one incident.
"Let’s not blow it out of proportion, it’s not the first time a player has missed a game because of a team rule violation," said the veteran hockey man. "We’re full of second chances in this business."
Poile then pointed to my personal life (sorry, folks) to make his point.
"It’s not different than your family; someday you and your wife may have to have your twins sit in the corner for a timeout because of their behavior," Poile said. "And you might not like the crying and how it makes you feel, but you know as a parent you’re doing the right thing. And it’s no different in this case. You still love your kids. It’s not that we dislike Andrei or Rad; we’re disappointed in their behavior, and we hope that because we’re punishing them, if you will, by missing this game that this will not be a repetitive situation. If and when they get a chance to put on a Predators uniform again, both their play on the ice and their behavior off the ice will be at the highest standard possible.”
Here’s what I think might happen Wednesday night with Nashville’s season essentially on the line: The Predators will rediscover their true identity. Before they added the likes of Radulov and Kostitsyn, they were the blue-collar Preds. They understood how they won games in this league, with a grind-it-out, defense-first style. My guess is they'll go back to that Wednesday.
The guy I feel bad for right now, though, is Predators captain Shea Weber. Behind the scenes over the past few years, he contributed to trying to persuade Radulov to come back to the Predators. He certainly didn’t have this in mind when doing so.
But Poile and head coach Barry Trotz ran their decision by Weber and the leaders before announcing it. Everyone is apparently on board.
"We talked to the leadership group in terms of their knowledge of it and what-have-you," Poile said. "Everybody was very much aware of the situation. We had to do the right thing."
Yes, the Predators might lose Game 3. And if that’s the case, their season would be essentially over. But Poile and Trotz will have zero regrets.
From drafting and developing players to fostering the type of hockey culture (with limited finances) that they believe breeds success, the Predators in my books have always done it the honorable way.
This is no different. The team comes first.
"Win or lose, we made the right decision," Poile said.