Something that caught the eye of the hockey blogosphere last Sunday was Keith Jones of NBC Sports taking Alexander Radulov to task during the 2nd intermission for showing poor "effort" in the Nashville Predators series against the Phoenix Coyotes. He singles out some plays where Radulov carelessly turns the puck over in the offensive zone, misses the net on shots and showcases poor back-checking on plays that turned into goals. Jeremy Roenick then chimes in and says that Radulov was the Predators' "worst player."
Personally, I thought Jones was being a little harsh because I don't think Radulov was to blame for any of those goals (see Klein, Kevin) but he never really implied that and was mainly questioning his effort. Something that is completely fair when watching those clips, but I feel like those kinds of plays happen all the time if you follow one player throughout a game. Roenick's comments, however, were completely incorrect and sounded like he just wanted to mud-sling the "lazy Russian player" because anyone who has watched this series can probably tell you that Radulov has not been the Preds worst player. In fact, he has actually been one of their better forwards when playing at even strength.
Now, I don't take anything Roenick says seriously but I've been seeing a lot of people agree with these two's assessment of Radulov. I have even heard some say that his suspension was a "blessing in disguise" and that the Preds are better off without him in the lineup. A statement that couldn't be further from the truth.
Let's take a look back to the Detroit series,
This is scoring chance data from the Preds' first round series with the Detroit Red Wings, and you will see that Radulov was Nashville's best forward. He was on ice for the second most scoring chances at even strength and contributed to over half of their powerplay scoring chances. Without him and Legwand, the Preds don't make it out of the first round. This is with them playing a considerable amoutn of time against Henrik Zetterberg's line, too.
What about in the second round? Radulov has yet to score a goal but his performance in the first two games has not been bad at all.
|EV SCF||EV SCA||PP SCF|
Radulov played very well in game 1 and had the best scoring chance differential on the team. That line didn't produce a goal but they easily could have with how many scoring chances they were creating. His performance in game 2 wasn't quite as good but he was one of the few Predators who actually had a positive chance differential at even strength, which says a lot. Radulov was brought into be a dynamic offensive presence and he has done that for most of this series, but one off-game has people saying that the team would be better off without him in favor of players who show "heart" and "toughness."
Guys like Jordin Tootoo, Matt Halischuk and Craig Smith are all good players but they do not have the talent that Radulov has. He instantly makes the Preds' top-six better and he showed that in the Detroit series. Nashville winning game 3 had little to do with him being out of the lineup and more to do with Pekka Rinne pitching a shutout, Nashville's defense corps and getting a couple of lucky breaks on top of that (see both goals they scored). I don't think Radulov playing in that game would have hurt them at all.
The point I am trying to make with this is that too many people obsess over what kind of "character" a player is rather than his performance on-ice. It allways seems to be European's who get this kind of stereotype from the media and it looks like Radulov is the latest victim. His suspension and past history doesn't reflect well on his personality but I think that should be separate from what he does on the ice. As of right now, he's been on ice for the third highest amount of even strength scoring chances among Nashville forwards....and that is with missing one game. I think they will be happy to have him back in the lineup when he returns.