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Frozen Fantasy: Radulov Returning?

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson is a four-time winner of the Hockey Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Remember Alexander Radulov? Supreme talent. Extreme pout. Fantasy darling. Well, he now wants to return to the NHL.

For real.

First things first - set up a news alert with his name and stalk him. Grabbing a guy like him in single-year leagues could be like putting your roster on PEDs.

Yes, it's dirty. And you'll probably end up feeling like you need a shower. But he might just put you over the top.

He's simply that talented.

But is he worth it? Not in my books. Nothing about this guy has changed. Hang on - let me rephrase that. Something has changed - he's gotten even more manipulative.

Keeper leagues, step away from the claim button.

Four years ago, Radulov left the NHL to pursue greener pastures in the KHL. He had one year left on his entry-level deal.

Fast forward to today and Radulov, who is the fledgling league's all-time scoring leader, is trying to leave the KHL with one year owing to his team, Ufa Salavat Yulayev. He says he has an "out clause."

Two different teams in two very different leagues; same M.O. Those are some big onions.

By returning now, he'd burn off that final year of his NHL contract by skating in about 10 games. He'd get a shot at the Stanley Cup. And he'd set himself up for a massive pay day. Pretty smart, eh?

But where would he sign next year? Seriously - you and I both know that if he doesn't get a spectacular offer from an NHL team he'll return to the KHL.

No escrow. No taxes. And absolutely no accountability.

His motivations seem obvious to me. That's why he's not going near any of my rosters.

Now let's take a look at who caught my eye this week.

Sven Baertschi, LW, Calgary (1 percent owned) - Wow! Is there actually a chance that the Flames drafted well for once? I know - that's almost an oxymoron (with emphasis on the moron). This undersized and speedy agitator will definitely be a top-nine forward some day. And he's going to irritate a whole lot of people along the way. Cripes, he might even become a mini Esa Tikkanen (first-line foil for supreme offensive talents) IF the Flames play their cards the right way and give him the proper time to develop. I like him as a keeper but I also like him short term - witness a goal in three consecutive games. The talent is there.

Carl Hagelin, LW, NY Rangers (8 percent owned) - Hagelin isn't a guy you can keep on your roster for long - like most rookies, he's just too streaky to contribute for extended periods. But he has five points (two goals, three assists) in his last two games and 12 (five and seven) in his last 11. He's also plus-8 in those 11 games. His future lies as a third-line checker but you can't ignore what he's showing right now alongside Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik.

Tomas Kopecky, RW/LW, Florida (3 percent owned) - Kopecky's rep as a suffocating defender grows with each passing week. So it's sometimes hard to remember that he delivered a point every two games last season. His hands are not great - ok, they're not even good, either. But he's managed two goals and two assists with a plus-4 rating in his last three games. Desperation mounts toward the end of the season so deep leaguers may have no choice but to stoop and grab.

Andrei Kostitsyn, RW/LW, Nashville and Sergei Kostitsyn, LW, Nashville (both 15 percent owned) - Brotherly love - you think these guys like playing alongside each other? Andrei arrived in Music City seven games ago and both men have seriously picked up their offensive pace since then. Sergei saw his four-game, six-point (two goals, four assists, plus-4) streak snapped Thursday night and Andrei has six points (three and three) and a shootout winner in his first seven games. Both men have been rapped for inconsistent and indifferent play at points in their careers but so far, this looks like a family reunion made in heaven. Roll the dice and add one - or both - to your roster.

Dmitry Kulikov, D, Florida (21 percent owned) - This riverboat gambler burst out of the blocks this season with 12 points (all assists) in his first 15 games and 20 (three goals, 17 assists) in his first 27. He was playing with a poise that belied his baby-faced youth. He brings it all - smooth skating, outstanding footwork, big shot, seeing-eye puck distribution and muscle. A knee injury in January took him off track - and off fantasy rosters - in mid-January but he'll be back in a matter of games. He should be refreshed and could kick it the way did at the start of the season.

Steve Mason, G, Columbus (28 percent owned) - I can't believe I'm going back to the trough with this guy. But before his lacerated pinkie, Mason had strung together four straight wins including one shutout. He should get another shot, maybe even as early as this weekend, and the Jackets' sked going forward features several struggling teams. Sure, the Wings, Hawks and Canucks are sure to snap out of things soon. But maybe - just maybe - Mason will face them right before they do. It's a risk that shouldn't hurt your goals-against average or save percentage too much. And a late season win can be better than gold.

Dmitri Orlov, D, Washington (5 percent owned) - Orlov has offensive gifts and a big shot. Not in a Mike Green kind of way, of course. But more like Dennis Wideman, if I had to make an in-team comparison. And there's nothing shabby with that kind of comp - Wideman entered play Thursday tied for second in NHL scoring from the blue line. It took Orlov a while to get acclimated to the NHL game but now that he has, the blueliner has delivered five points - one goal and four helpers - and a plus-5 rating in his last five games. I've nabbed him in two leagues in the hope he can deliver more of this late-season goodness. You can certainly do far, far worse.

Matt Stajan, C, Calgary (2 percent owned) - Calgary's boy-next-door has taken a lot of heat for his pathetic production since signing that tasty contract extension two years ago. And his play this season - 10 points in his first 45 games - has only validated all those angry radio callers in Cowtown. But something has gotten into him in his last five games - he's riding a five-game point streak that includes three goals and the same number of assists. He might help. Maybe.

Raffi Torres, LW, Phoenix (1 percent owned) - Torres has never really lived up to the promise of a fifth-overall draft pick. But he has carved out a solid career as a north-south torpedo that skates a fine line between effectively abrasive and stupidly suspended. He does have skill, though - his shot is quick and heavy. It often produces tasty rebounds but lately, it's been finding twine to the tune of three goals and one helper in his last five games. And four goals and that one assist in his last nine games. This will not last - it took him almost a month to record his first goal this season. But he might pick up a goal and a few PIMs to help you out.

Antoine Vermette, LW/C, Phoenix (9 percent owned) - Has this brilliant skater rediscovered the excellence he showed two seasons ago? Who knows, really, but I sure like what he's done in his last five games. Try two goals, four assists and a plus-5 rating. And then there are the surprising four blocked shots and 15 - yes 15 - hits. In fact, he has 26 hits in 11 games in the desert after recording just 66 in 60 games in Ohio. He's best when he's engaged and it sure looks like he's rediscovered that. No guarantees for next season but right now, I'm desperate enough to hitch my wagon to him for at least a few games to see if he can keep it up.

Back to Radulov.

There are rumors his KHL squad may not release him. But of course, he might be inclined to ignore that kind of "problem" any way.

The NHL can always use a guy of his talent level. His transition back to the NHL would be relatively swift. And his kind of magic could help lift the Preds all the way to the Cup finals.

Cripes, it might even help them re-sign Ryan Suter.

But I wouldn't trust him as far as I could kick him. And neither should you.

Until next week.