BOCA RATON, FLA. - At these get togethers for NHL general managers, there's usually a sense of very competitive men putting aside their differences and working for the good of the game.
That, for the most part, is the case here as the GMs are pushing forward the plan to adopt hybrid icing, the change getting the approval of the group Tuesday during their second day of meetings.
But there is also been an undercurrent of tension after the NHL ruled Tuesday that Alexander Radulov is free to return from the Kontinental Hockey League and fulfill his contractual obligation to the Nashville Predators without going through waivers. Having a player pass through waivers is the usual procedure for players coming over at this time of year, when their European seasons have concluded.
But Radulov bolted from the Predators for the KHL with a year left on his entry level contract after the 2007-08 season and he still owes the Predators that year.
That's what makes this situation different.
Whether Radulov will return remains to be seen.
After the NHL got the NHLPA to agree the 25-year-old would not have to go through waivers, all the hurdles have been cleared for his return. But what are the odds he will?
"That's a good question," said Predators general manager David Poile. "I've been down this road each of the last three or four years. The timing is a bit different because (Radulov's KHL team, Ufa Salavat Yulayev) has been eliminated. All the hurdles have been cleared, the opportunity is there. The timing makes a lot of sense. It's up to him to make the decision to come over.
"In my gut, if there's going to be a time, it should be now. All the the things are aligned. The (KHL) playoffs are over. The hurdles are cleared. He can burn off the year, get himself to free agency. I've always felt he was going to come back. From the day he left, I always thought he would come back to the best league in the world."
Poile said he has not yet talked to Radulov, who some have described -- perhaps a bit over the top -- as the best player outside the NHL (he scored 26 goals for Nashville in his last year there and has twice been KHL MVP).
Poile also wasn't making any apologies to his colleagues, at least a couple of whom were said to be privately steamed that the league would allow the Predators to add a player at this late date without him having to go through waivers.
"He's a suspended player. People are saying he's over in Europe, you have to go through waivers. We went through that with the NHL and the NHLPA to clear that. He's just a suspended player," said Poile.
Montreal Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier said discussion of the Radulov case got heated.
"Oh, it's competitive, absolutely. There's some competitive issues there. 'Why are they allowed to get a player back?' If you're in the Western Conference, you bring those things up for sure. We all have our competitive juices going," he said.
Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland refused to talk about it.
"Fair or unfair, I guess you just have to live with the ruling," said St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. "It's probably something that might get closed off moving forward, but moving forward doesn't help this year.
"I understand it from Nashville's perspective, that they didn't initiate this (situation). The difficult part is from Radulov's perspective. He did (initiate it). He gets his cake and eats it, too. I understand Nashville's point of view, but from Radulov's point of view, he wins on all fronts."
If Radulov plays a game either in the regular season or in the playoffs, it will burn the last year of his entry-level deal and make him an restricted free agent in the eyes of the NHL. The precedent for a player having to honour the term of his contract was set when an arbitrator ruled Alexei Yashin had to fulfill the final year of his contract after walking out on the Ottawa Senators for the 1999-2000 season.
"(Radulov) is a player under contract. He has contractual obligations to Nashville. It would be unfair to the club that has the benefit and right to those contractual obligations not to be able to bring him back," said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. "It's been black and white for us. We've consistently taken that position with every player who has gone AWOL on his contractual obligations.
"This group shouldn't have been surprised by this. But the guys in this room are competitors, so I certainly understand that they might like the result in this situation to be different, but it's the result that we've tried to preserve for our clubs from the start."
The door's open.
Now the question is will Radulov walk though it? And if he does, how much better does he makes the Predators?