-- Predators general manager David Poile said that when he arrived at Nashville International Airport on Tuesday night to pick up Alexander Radulov
, Radulov gave Poile a hug.
It marked the start of a new chapter in what has been an awkward relationship and a situation that Poile called "very upsetting from a contractual standpoint." On Wednesday, the Predators made it official, lifting the high-scoring winger's suspension after four years of playing in the KHL. He will practice for the first time with the Predators on Wednesday and fly with the team to Pittsburgh, where he and coach Barry Trotz will decide if he will make his debut on Thursday against the Penguins or on Saturday at home against Winnipeg. Radulov passed a physical in the morning before practice.
Poile formally presented him with his No. 47 at a morning news conference at Bridgestone Arena.
"I play here two years and remember all the moments," Radulov said. "It's good to be back here. I feel good and just looking forward to helping the team to be better. It's a good team. I know it's a young team. I know some guys from it and they're good friends of mine. I'll do whatever it takes to help the team to do better."
Poile said that despite Radulov's decision to abandon his contract and play in his native Russia for Salavat Yulayev Ufa after the 2007-08 season -- when Radulov totaled 26 goals and 32 assists in 81 games for the Predators -- he always held the conviction Radulov would return. He recited the player's resume: two-time MVP of the KHL, a KHL championship, MVP of the championship and an IIHF world championship.
Poile said Radulov plays big on the biggest stages.
Underpinning his conviction was that Poile pointed out Radulov kept his home in Nashville, his car, his clothes and that the player's parents would visit Nashville and attend Predators games. Poile said Radulov followed the team religiously. On their periodic meetings, when Poile would bring up a certain member of the Preds, Radulov would rattle off that player's stats.
Slowly, over time, the Predators' approach of keeping in touch took effect. Poile said that "over a number of years" the Predators and Radulov's representatives discussed whether Radulov would have to play a full season or less to satisfy the final year of his NHL contract that would allow him to become a restricted free agent. Poile has said that by coming over now, Radulov will satisfy the contract and he will become an RFA on July 1.
Poile said he started sensing that this might be the year for Radulov's return in the fall when Ufa started poorly and fell into turmoil, firing its coach. In the past, Ufa was playing for championships and its season went longer, making a return more problematic.
"The timing was never like it was this year, contractually, which I don't know enough about, and competitively," Poile said. "Everything lined up: contract up, team out of the playoffs. It all lined up for us."
He told Radulov in his conversations if he signed another long-term deal in the KHL, his window to play in the NHL might close.
"Well, you know, I was talking to David four years all the time," Radulov said. "It's a good opportunity for me to come back and, basically, my contract is over in KHL and I always thought about making comeback and making my return back to the NHL. It's a good League and all the best players are playing here. In Russia, it's a good league, too, but I've been there for four years and missed a little bit the NHL … "
"Now, I'm here. I'm happy to be here."
There have been reports Radulov might head back to the KHL after playing in Nashville's final nine games and the playoffs. Poile said his understanding is Radulov has no obligations to his KHL team to return.
Radulov said the same.
"There's been a lot of talking about it," he said. "I didn't say anything. I didn't promise anything to anybody. I got an opportunity to move from Russia this summer, so that's about it."
Poile said his goal is to have "this relationship last longer than these last nine games and the playoffs."
"Probably the story's not over because we don't know," he said. "We don't know how good he's going to be, how good he's going to fit in, how long it's going to last."
On Wednesday, Radulov began skating on a line centered by David Legwand
and with the team's leading scorer, Patric Hornqvist
(24 goals), on the right side. Poile said he is not worried about Radulov fitting in and said that from the reaction Radulov got in the locker room, he has nothing to worry about.
Radulov was asked to explain why he left and why he decided to come back. He had difficulty with the question.
"Times change and now I'm here," he said, adding, "It was not a normal situation."
Now, the Predators hope it is a normal situation. Poile, for one, is not worrying about offseason contract negotiations.
"Right now, I'm focused right here," he said, framing his hands on either side of his face to indicate tunnel vision. "That's all that matters, is the last nine games and the playoffs."
Author: John Manasso | NHL.com Correspondent