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Alexander Radulov move hard for Montreal to accept

Signing follows Canadiens' unpopular trade of Subban

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

BROSSARD, Quebec - Had it been announced in a vacuum, everything probably would have been fine.

The Montreal Canadiens' signing of forward Alexander Radulov, perhaps the best player in the world not playing in the NHL, would in all likelihood have been celebrated in this city because his tremendous offensive skill is exactly what this team needs.

But Montreal is not a vacuum.

It remains a city and a fan base coming to grips with Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin's decision on Wednesday to trade defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for defenseman Shea Weber.

The perception among many fans is that Subban was traded, at least in part, to improve chemistry in the Canadiens dressing room. No Montreal players have ever come forward and said that Subban was a problem in the room, nor has coach Michel Therrien or Bergevin.

But the perception lingers.

So in light of that, with so many in the city believing that was a reason Subban was traded, whether true or not, bringing in a player with a past like Radulov's appeared to be a contradiction.

Video: NHL Network examines the Alexander Radulov Habs deal

The last time Radulov was in the NHL, in 2012, he was a teammate of Weber's with the Predators, who suspended him during the Western Conference Second Round for violating curfew between Games 2 and 3 of the series against the Phoenix Coyotes, as they were known at the time.

He had returned to the NHL from the Kontinental Hockey League for the final nine games of the 2011-12 regular season hoping his talent would give the Predators a boost heading into the playoffs, and Radulov put up good numbers with seven points in the regular season and six points in eight playoff games.

But then he and forward Andrei Kostitsyn, who had been acquired by the Predators from the Canadiens at the NHL Trade Deadline, broke curfew in Arizona and were suspended for a game.

This is the lasting memory Canadiens fans had of the forward their team acquired Friday with thoughts of Subban, a player who never had a similar incident over his six-plus seasons in Montreal but was still traded away amid rumors of a divided dressing room, still fresh in their minds.

After making a trade he knew would be horribly unpopular with fans two days earlier, this was the context in which Bergevin announced he had added Radulov to the Canadiens' chemistry mix on a one-year contract ESPN reported is worth $5.75 million.

The timing was less than ideal.

"A gamble is a gamble," Bergevin said, "you never know if it's going to work."

Bergevin refused to get into what led to Subban's departure, even if it was somewhat relevant to his decision to add Radulov and the character issues he had. He was given an opportunity to snuff out the rumors and clear the perception that the health of the dressing room was a reason he traded Subban, and Bergevin passed.

"I'm not talking about P.K. This is done," he said. "P.K.'s with the Nashville Predators now and I wish him the best, but today is about the Montreal Canadiens."

Video: Reaction to the Subban/Weber trade

Radulov is the latest in a long line of Bergevin gambles to find a top-six right wing to help end the Canadiens' offensive struggles, one that began with Daniel Briere in 2013-14 and included P.A. Parenteau in 2014-15 and Zack Kassian and Alexander Semin last season. None of those players lasted more than a season in Montreal.

Radulov, who turns 30 on Tuesday, is different in that he is in his prime and arrives as one of the most productive players in the KHL. Since leaving the Predators prior to the 2012-13 season to go back to the KHL, Radulov had 238 points in 181 games with CSKA Moscow.

The last time he faced NHL-caliber talent was at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he tied former Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk for the Russia team lead with six points in five games, more than Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (two points) and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins (three points) combined.

Bergevin did his homework on Radulov, meeting him and speaking with Weber and Sergei Fedorov, the Hall of Fame center who is the GM of CSKA Moscow.

"Shea talked to me about when he was with him in Nashville, it was not a character issue but a maturity issue," Bergevin said. "Sergei said 'He's one of my leaders, he's my captain, he's got a wife and a kid and he wants to come back in the NHL.' My scouts, we watched him a lot this year, he's one of the hardest working kids.

"So we're taking a risk, but hopefully the reward is big."

Of course, much has changed in Radulov's life since that busted curfew in Arizona four years ago, most importantly his becoming a father, but he knows he has work to do to convince people -- his teammates, his coach and the fans -- that he is different.

"I made a mistake," he said. "I'm not trying to say I wasn't doing it or it wasn't my mistake. Yes, I did it and it's real life. Time goes by and you look [back] at some things and what [you] should have done, what [you] should have not done and you realize some things.

"I completely know what I'm doing right now and I know what I want and I know how to do this. You have to be more on the hockey, work hard and be ready for every game."

Those are words that should be welcomed by Canadiens fans who have long waited for a player of Radulov's talent to land in Montreal, because if he can show he's able to focus on hockey, the potential of him becoming an important part of the team is very high.

Except those fans just weren't ready to hear it yet.

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