Per Puck Daddy, Alex Radulov has officially decided to return to the KHL next season.
According to his agent, the most important factor in this decision was the likelihood of a lockout in the NHL last year. If you buy that, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn I'd LOVE to sell you.
The fact of the matter is that Radulov's earning potential is far greater in Russia than it will ever be in the NHL. Rich with Russian oil money, Sergei Federov's club CSKA paid $8M to Radulov's former club just for his exclusive KHL rights so clearly they're going to pay him the big bucks. The paranoid hockey fan may point to this and argue that the KHL, with its deep pockets and no salary cap structure, is making a statement here that it will pay top dollar to lure the best Russians and other top players away from the NHL. Fortunately, if we take a closer look it becomes clear that there's really nothing to be worried about at all.
For the last several years we've all been told over and over that Radulov was the best hockey player in the world not currently playing in the NHL. He had started to develop into a decent player in Nashville before jumping ship to the KHL with a year left on his entry level deal, and in Russia he instantly became a superstar. In 4 seasons in the KHL he was named an all-star all 4 years, averaged better than a point per game and was named league MVP 3 times. But when we made the jump back to Nashville this spring we got to see him for who he really is - he may be a superstar in the KHL, but in the NHL he's just a guy. Apparently being labeled the best hockey player in the world not currently playing in the NHL means about as much as being labeled the fastest runner in the world not currently competing for any nation's Olympic track and field team.
The best Russian players - the Malkins, Ovechkins, Datsyuk's, etc. - will always (at least in the near term) choose to play in North America. While yes, they can earn more (tax-free) money in the uncapped KHL, they will happily trade that marginal salary increase for the added security - job security, personal security, etc. - of playing and living in North America. The guys that are going to jump ship to the KHL are the less-special players, the ones whose minutes and production are relatively easy to replace, the ones for whom the difference between what they'll make in the KHL and the NHL isn't so marginal because they're not valued so highly in the NHL, the ones that quite frankly aren't really missed when they go home.
Radulov was not going to make superstar money in the NHL because he's not that good, plain and simple. The fact that the KHL is willing to open up their pocketbooks for a player that the NHL barely wants indicates that it's still a LOOONG way off before the KHL is anywhere close to the level of the NHL. So rejoice NHL fans, because we're still going to get to watch the best hockey in the world for a long, long time.