They seem unrelated, but there is a link between Alexander Radulov's impending return to the NHL and reports that both the Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets will consider trading their (high) first-round draft picks.

"Generally, if a Russian came to North America to play his junior hockey, you believed he wanted to play in the NHL," one general manager said last weekend. "That is a big commitment, but Radulov's situation has changed all that."

Radulov was 18 years old in 2004 when he joined Patrick Roy's Quebec Remparts. By all accounts, he loved playing for the Hall of Famer and thrived under Roy's guidance. Radulov was named the most valuable player in the 2006 Memorial Cup, the maraschino cherry on a season in which he had 207 points in 85 QMJHL games, including playoffs.

Radulov was so good, so quickly that the normally patient Nashville Predators had no choice but to call him up after 11 AHL games. By now, you know the rest of the story. In 2008, with one year remaining on his entry-level contract, Radulov bolted for the KHL. (It's very difficult to confirm this, but a few NHL sources believe Radulov was paid in the neighbourhood of $5.5 million US this season. The remaining year on his NHL salary was worth under $1 million US, excluding bonuses).

While a number of NHL GMs are disgusted that he's being allowed to "beat the system" and burn that "year" in about 10 games (especially if he returns to Russia next year), they're also wondering what it means for the NHL draft. Three of the highest-rated prospects -- Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk and Mikhail Grigorenko -- are Russians who play in the CHL.

These are three extremely gifted players. Galchenyuk, who was born in Milwaukee as his father played minor-league hockey there, has been hurt much of the season. Yakupov is battling a concussion, but he and Grigorenko seem the consensus 1-2 selections.

It's hard not to write about this stuff without sounding like Senator Joseph McCarthy, but there are a few major concerns for NHL teams.

Radulov isn't the only example. Two other terrific youngsters, Evgeny Kuznetsov (Washington Capitals) and Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues), are the gorgeous cheerleaders toying with prospective dates for the prom. They are proof that if a player does go to the KHL, it is excruciatingly difficult to get him back. What happens, for example, if there's a lockout and one (or more) decides to start the season in Russia?

Imagine you're Columbus, Edmonton, the Minnesota Wild, New York Islanders, etc. You'd be thrilled to get one of them to rejuvenate your team. But you'd be terrified of what would happen if the player didn't like the contract, the situation, the organization -- anything. Teams are going to have to work hard to convince these players each potential city is the right spot. It's unusual for draft picks to have this kind of leverage.

"You're really going to have to do your research here," said the aforementioned GM. "You cannot afford to make a mistake."

"It's a concern, yes," said another GM who, depending where the ping-pong balls fall, will have a shot at them.

"But we don't want to say we're not going to take one of them [because they're Russian] ... we're going to have to do our homework to know exactly what each of them thinks."

One agent suggested that the NHL would do itself a huge favour if it allowed a more generous/attainable bonus package in its rookie contracts. But if history is any indication, rookies always get squeezed in collective bargaining. The NFL and NFLPA all but eliminated leverage for draftees in its recent CBA. Over the last three NBA negotiations, entry-level deals tightened every time.

Eight years ago, Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin made it very clear that they wanted to play against the best. They came and stayed. But the KHL was not a factor then. For good, young Russian players, it is now.

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