Montreal trading for Jonathan Drouin to bolster their top-six forwards a couple weeks ago, followed by the signing of Ales Hemsky earlier today, seemed to indicate that Alex Radulov would not be returning to the Habs. This indeed ended up being the case, as Radulov signed with the Dallas Stars:
Stars sign Alexander Radulov to $31.25 million, 5-year deal. It's the richest contract signed in free agency this year, ties for longest.
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) July 3, 2017
Radulov turns 31 years old this July. In his first full season in the NHL since 2007-2008, he posted 18 goals and 54 points in 76 games.
Any reticence of Radulov’s desire to play in the NHL at a high level and commit to his team was definitely set aside last year. Anyone watching a Montreal game saw a player give his best on a nightly basis, and was easily their most dangerous player in their short-lived playoff run. He earned this contract.
It should be noted that Radulov didn’t really show himself to be a shooter last year – he managed 12.61 shot attempts per 60 minutes, about mid-pack among forwards with 1000 minutes played, in the same range as Jonathan Toews and Kyle Turris. He isn’t being brought in to score per se, but he did show himself to be a pretty good distributor, finishing inside the top 13 percent of regular forwards in primary assists per minute. It’s not to say he can’t score, as he managed 18 goals, and would have cracked 20 with a bit better fortune at five-on-five (he shot under 7 percent). It’s his two-way game, and ability to find teammates, which are the focus here.
At first blush, I had thought that Radulov would slide to the second line to play with Martin Hanzal. The reasoning being that Jason Spezza looked pretty good on the top line with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, and Martin Hanzal could replace Spezza as the second-line centre. However, as some of my friends on Twitter were fond of pointing out to me, with Radulov being a distributor, it would make more sense for him to move to the top line.
Players this helps
Not that they really need it, but assuming Benn and Seguin are paired back together, this gives them a consistent right winger for the foreseeable future. There had been a lot of guys to come and go over the last couple of seasons; Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Valeri Nichushkin, Patrick Eaves, and Cody Eakin are just a few of the players to get looks (some extended, some not) on the top trio. While they don’t necessarily need the help, this gives them a true first-line distributor who can do all the things they need to do like gaining the zone with possession, keep a cycle by using the body, and forcing turnovers to get back on the attack. This addition could legitimately give the Stars the best top line in hockey.
Indirectly, this probably helps Mattias Janmark as well. There hasn’t been much in the ways of updates on his return from the knee injury, but earlier indicators were that he would be ready for training camp. With Spezza a possibility to move to right wing (I’m guessing here, but I doubt they keep Spezza at centre and use Hanzal in their bottom-six and Radek Faksa on the fourth line), Janmark could be the left wing on a very good second line. He won’t get heavy minutes, or top power-play time, but it does give him a very good right winger to work with if he’s healthy, and the team decides to move Spezza to the right side.
Players this hurts
Those reading my Ramblings this year know I was hoping for a breakout season from Brett Ritchie, mainly built around the notion the team was losing a couple of potential top-six wingers (Sharp, Hemsky), and he could fill in on the first or second line. With Radulov and Spezza in the top-six now, this pushes him to the bottom-six, and likely not to break out fantasy-wise. At this point, he needs the team to keep Spezza at centre or an injury to occur for him to really have a chance at breaking out.
Also, should Valeri Nichushkin decide to return, this would push him down the depth chart as well. That is definitely another conversation for another day, however.
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