Yesterday's big news lead to multiple light-hearted texts from high school friends with whom I used to hang out in the intermissions of the bygone first Radulov era. I had hardly even talked to one of those guys since high school, and his text just accentuated the feeling I'm caught in an Alex Radulov time warp.
I want to be mad at Radulov. When he left for the KHL, he was my favorite player. I read about his departure on the Predators' official message boards in disbelief. To my eyes, the Predators' most promising young forward choosing to play in a second-rate Russian league made a joke out of Nashville, already the butt of too many jokes in the NHL, having narrowly escaped relocation the year before.
Opening night 2008, I brought a huge banner to the game, featuring a caricature of Sarah Palin and the words: "I CAN SEE RADULOV FROM MY HOUSE." It was a reference to this parody of this already farcical quote. The banner was well bigger than the team allowed, but with the help of one brave usher, it was rescued from the trash and hung in plain view during all three intermissions.
My point with the banner (if I could even claim to have one, other than being pseudo-clever) was not some sly political statement, but merely to use one farce to point out another. The course of the Predator's franchise had been seemingly irrevocably and unjustly altered for the worse by the whims of one guy. It was the elephant in the room and I felt the need to keep pointing at it, for some reason.
Four years later, Alexander Radulov has reappeared in the middle of the night with all the surreality with which he left. Part of me want to hold his feet to the fire for the narrow miss of the playoffs in '08-09 and the choke against the Blackhawks in '09-10. Part of me wants to push the narrative that he left for money, returned for money, and his presence now is an affront to those who worked hard for four years to incrementally bring this franchise to respectability.
But I can't stay mad for the same reason I liked him in the first place. As Ryan Suter said recently, "He's a beauty in every way."
Seriously, Alexander Radulov is the textbook example for a hockey "beauty": a jokester whose comic chef d'œuvre is the striking contrast between the silliness of his humor and the dead seriousness of his talent. A guy who loves to get reactions, whether the roar of a crowd or the roar of a laughing teammate. If the Predators were a movie, critics would pan Radulov's performance as an offensive stereotype, totally derivative of Dan Aykroyd in SNL's "Wild & Crazy Guys"
When considering Radulov's personality, it's easy to believe a much nicer narrative: that he left for Russia homesick and alienated by the Predators' veterans and now returns to go on a magical playoff run with some best buddies.
Just watch this old scoreboard video of Radulov and Darcy Hordichuk working the registers at a local Hardee's. If you can't watch the video at work, I've transcribed some relevant parts for you:
Hordichuk: I think it was great. Y'know, I learned something about my roommate, here, on the road, Rudi. Not only is he a good hockey player but--
Radulov: Oh you forgot--we wasn't room this year, so you forgot about that.
Radulov: OOHHHHHH. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA
or the classic:
Radulov is scooping french fries.
Hordichuk (jokingly): Hey, Rudi, did you wash your hands?
Radulov (dead serious): I DIDN'T TOUCH THE POTATO.
Hordichuk: I think Rudi obviously, before he made the NHL, cashier probably seemed like a second nature.
Radulov: No that's fine. I think the next year, I will come back in this restaurant and he will be over here *points to register* because his contract is up. And I will give him some probably tip.
Hordichuk: That'll be the first time Rudi gave a tip, so hey...
Basically, Radulov seems too lovably child-like, on and off the ice, to be some shrewd financial mastermind, who has positioned himself perfectly to force a two-league bidding war for his services over the summer. But he probably is, and maybe he'll leave us again. In the meantime, though, I'll thoroughly enjoy the beauty, once again.