The announcement of the signing comes almost simultaneously with news that the NHL and the new Russian-backed hockey league, the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) had come to terms on an agreement where member clubs would refrain from signing players from the other league who were already under contract.
To get the skinny on the signing, I called in Dmitry Chesnokov, Washington correspondent for Sovetsky Sport, who provided the following translation of an interview Radulov gave to Sovetsky's Pavel Lysenkov. The following will appear in tomorrow's edition of Sovetsky.
"Yes, I signed a contract with Salavat Ulaef," – Radulov confirmed the news to Pavel Lysenkov of Sovetsky Sport. "I wanted to play in Russia. And the offer I was made was very good. That's why I decided to take this step. I signed a three year contract, and will play in the KHL at least until I am 25. Hockey is experiencing a revival in our country. So why not play in the homeland?"
Were you expecting a new contract offer from Nashville?
"Yes. By the way, I informed the management of the Predators that I had good offers in Russia. My contract with the Predators is valid for another year. But I wanted some certainty now. For example, Malkin in Pittsburgh had his contract extended a year before the previous one was set to expire.
Actually, I had been considering returning to Russia for quite some time. I just couldn't make the decision. And when the Ufa [Salavat Ulaef] club offered me this contract I realized that this was it. And my parents also supported my decision."
Did you have an entry-level contract in Nashville?
"Yes, for $980 thousand a year before tax."
Well, if Alexander Perezhogin [who played for Montreal], according to some, was offered $1.7 million by Salavat, then Radulov must be making no less than $3 million per year. If not $4 million. I wouldn't turn this down either. Do you have any complaints against Nashville?
Absolutely none. I played on the first or second lines, was showing good statistics. Everything was great. But I still made my choice in favor of Russia."
But maybe you will never be asked to return to the NHL.
"I think that if I play well I will be taken back without any questions. I will be 25. And also, who knows what will happen in 3 years? Maybe our KHL will be so good that there will be no reason to leave?
By the way, you might remember the incident with Alexander Semin? He had an active contract with Washington, but Sasha [Semin] decided to stay in Russia for another year. He was disqualified. But now Semin is playing for the Capitals without any problems."
By the way, does your contract contain a term that would allow you to leave for the NHL?
"There is no such term. This is a full contract for three years."
The IIHF president Rene Fasel may decide that Radulov has no right to participate in the World Championships or the [hockey] Champions League – both tournaments are hosted by the IIHF.
"Why would he decide that? It's the first time I have ever heard anything like this."
Well, the same thing happened to the Metallurg Magnitogorst forward Alexei Kaigorodov, whom Vyacheslav Bykov wanted to invite him to play for Team Russia in Quebec. But Fasel objected because Kaigorodov had an active contract with Ottawa.
"I would be very upset if something like this happens. But for me the most important thing is to play well for Salavat and help my new team with the KHL gold. And maybe even the Champions League, if I get a chance to play in the tournament. By the way, did Kaigorodov play in the Champions Cup in 2007?
Yes he did. But Fasel approved it because the tournament was sponsored by the Magnitogorst Steel Factory... This is very conflicting. How do you feel that your contract with Salavat was signed now that Alexander Medvedev and Bill Daly signed an agreement to respect each other's contracts?
"Yeah, right. And Nikita Filatov signed with Columbus at the same time."
They say that Filatov did not have a contract with CSKA Moscow, that he was fired from the club.
"But he still had certain responsibilities [the club owns his rights]. And he left for the States."
And what if Medvedev says: "I do not allow Radulov to play in the KHL!" What then?
"I would be very upset. Yes, anything is possible. But I am trying not to think about it. I need to get ready for the season. I was planning to start training with Malkin and Gonchar in St. Petersburg on July 16. But now I have to go to Ufa for Salavat's training camp."
Lately there were quite a few good players who left North America for Russia. Is it possible that in, let's say, 5 years there will be absolutely no Russians in the NHL?
"You see it for yourself that hockey in Russia is blossoming. A lot of money is being invested in the game. We start to see the result like the win in Quebec. I don't know what's going to happen with the NHL. But I hope that KHL is going to be awesome."
What would you like to tell Nashville fans?
"Thank you very much! It was such a pleasure playing for the Predators in the last two years. There is no one to blame for what has happened. But it happened that our paths have separated. I am going to play in Russia now. No one knows what the future will hold. And I wish the Predators to win the Stanley Cup!"
Unfortunately for Radulov, while he was busy negotiating his return to Russia, the KHL and NHL were negotiating a non-aggression pact when it came to honor each other's contracts. What's worse, the IIHF announced a few weeks ago that any player who jumped leagues while still under contract would be banned from international play. Here's what Radulov's agent, Yuri Nikolaev, had to say about that to Sovetsky Sport:
"I would like to stress that Radulov signed his contract with Salavat two days before Medvedev and the NHL in Zurich agreed to respect each other's contracts. To be honest, Sasha [Radulov] was not even aware of such meeting taking place.
Regarding a theoretical disqualification by the IIHF, it doesn't make sense. For example, United Arab Emirates decide to establish their own hockey league. And from that league a Russian hockey player decides to leave for the KHL, and sheiks get upset about it, then Fasel will also disqualify this player from participating in the World Championships? On what basis? Actually, Russia still does not have a transfer agreement with the NHL. So what is there to talk about?
There is no legal basis for any kind of punishment for Radulov. Yes, he has a signed contract with Nashville, we admit it. But similar situations have occurred before. And they should not surprise anyone.
What salary Radulov was offered by Salavat? The one fitting for an active World Champion."