Over The Boards: Alexander Radulov shows Montreal he was worth the risk

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Alexander Radulov was no one’s idea of the best free agent on the market last summer. And when Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin signed Radulov, doom was predicted. Radulov had developed a bad reputation in Nashville, where he had played parts of three seasons over the last decade, and he was friends with Alexander Semin, who has worn out more than a few welcomes in the NHL. Radulov was seen as a KHLer, that’s it.But as the likes of Loui Eriksson, David Backes and Andrew Ladd have found little success in their new surroundings, despite their big money, high-profile deals, Radulov, arguably, has been the year’s best free-agent acquisition. He has made all the difference to the Montreal Canadiens.“How dynamic he plays,” Montreal captain Max Pacioretty says. “Not only great to produce offence, but it rubs off on our entire lineup. I know it’s rubbed off on me since I’ve been on his line. I feel like I’m playing much more dynamic, I’m making plays when they’re there. I owe a lot of that to him, not just making plays with him, but seeing him do it night in, night out.”Radulov, who has six goals and 23 points in 26 games, has a deal that is an example of a team taking a chance on a talent, but not getting stupid about it. His $5.75 million annual salary might have seemed a bit high, but the term — one year — was team-friendly.Article Continued Below“I think all the teams seem to be getting a little bit smarter as we’ve gotten into the system over the last five or six years,” Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher says. “In the cap system, it’s so difficult to move money and create cap space. You want to make sure you’re bringing the right person in. The challenge is to have the right role (for him) and (that) he fits well into your room and how your team’s style of play.”Fletcher has made some smart free-agent moves, too. He took a chance on Thomas Vanek a year ago. It didn’t work out, but it was just a one-ear-deal. This summer, he signed Eric Staal to a three-year, $10.5-million deal. Staal has been a much better fit, leading the Wild with 19 points.“He just turned 32, still has a lot of mileage left,” Fletcher says. “It’s very difficult to get big centremen with skill. Besides the points, he’s a guy we feel defends well, is positionally sound, can win faceoffs, can kill penalties.”

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