As it becomes more and more apparent that the Nashville Predators' prodigal son may well return to the NHL in short order (today? tomorrow?), the whining from certain sectors of the league is growing louder. The most outspoken? Contingents from Vancouver, Detroit, and St. Louis.
In Vancouver's case, it's the players. Up in Detroit, the fans are throwing a fit, and in St. Louis, the general manager is displeased. If you're not noticing a pattern, I'll help - these are the three teams in the West that have more points than Nashville.
Now, to be fair, the situation is unprecedented, and other players who have come over from Europe required waivers before being eligible, and they certainly weren't eligible for the playoffs. But those players didn't walk out on their contracts, nor were they kept on a team's reserve list as Alexander Radulov was.
It makes sense, too, that other teams competing with the Predators in the playoff race don't want a rival getting an elite offensive talent on their roster essentially free of charge, but why should Nashville be punished for something they didn't do? The league is ruling that they shouldn't, and are leaving it up to the team whether or not Radulov should be punished, per Bill Daly:
I don't like it. I don't like the fact the player owes a full year under the contract, but ultimately the club didn't have to take him back if they wanted to insist [he play] the full year. It's within their right to do it. But that judgment's going to be Nashville's judgment, not the league's.
There is no precedent for this particular situation, and when Radulov left, there was no language in the CBA detailing what would be done in this event. The NHL saw a player still under contract and determined that the administrators of the contract be allowed to determine what constitutes its fulfillment.
How many other teams in this league would be put in this same position and suspend their wayward star in the middle of a playoff race? I'm thinking none. How many teams expressed sympathy or similar emotions for the Predators when Radulov jumped ship? Again - I'm thinking none.
The argument that this sets a bad precedent is, simply, irrelevant. Post-Radulov, the NHL and KHL created an agreement involving respecting each other's contracts, making it impossible for anyone to do again what Radulov did.
One wonders if the Red Wings, Blues, and Canucks are simply concerned that the Radulov makes Nashville a legitimate Cup contender. The argument could be made that they are now, without Radulov, but this roster with an elite goal scorer is, in the eyes of an opposing team, downright terrifying. They are deep, they are talented, they can score at even strength and on the man advantage, they have the best defensive pairing in the world and an equally good goaltender, and now, perhaps a gamebreaking forward.
Yeah, I wouldn't want to play them either.