by Christopher Nardella, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

(Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

MONTREAL, QC. — The Montreal Canadiens have relied heavily on a small number of players to win games, which has been their biggest fault this season. Among those two or three players is Alexander Radulov who has destroyed any pre-conceived notions about his character. Now the Canadiens have a daunting decision to make with respect to Radulov, a decision that’s crucially important to their future.

Let’s acknowledge that there’s no doubt that Radulov is a pivotal part of this Canadiens team and is their most dynamic offensive player. Radulov has made a gigantic difference on this team, most notably jump-starting the offence of Max Pacioretty. The Canadiens captain was in the midst of a worrying drought prior to being paired with Radulov and Philip Danault, which propelled him to second place in the NHL’s goal scoring race.

Radulov has had the primary assist on the majority of Pacioretty’s markers during this stretch. We have seen the two split up on two separate power-play units at times, which should provide insight into the effect one has on the other.

Despite not playing in every facet of the game, Radulov is nevertheless heavily depended upon. Radulov trails only Pacioretty in time on ice, by one minute on average. Needless to say, Pacioretty plays a primary role on the penalty kill, a place where it would be surprising for the Russian winger to see time.

Radulov plays one minute more on average per night than the third-most used Canadiens forward, Tomas Plekanec, who is the team’s foremost penalty killer. He also is second among forwards in time on ice on the power-play among forwards, trailing, once again, Pacioretty, but by a much smaller margin.

Aside from being the team’s second leading scorer, Radulov leads forwards in power-play points and power-play assists, on many occasions him being the primary playmaker and having the power-play run through him.

With Radulov’s importance as a player who makes others better, the question is whether the Canadiens should commit long-term?. The Russian is said to be requesting either a six year deal in the ballpark of five million per season or a three year deal in the ballpark of seven million per season. Already at 31-years old at season’s end, Radulov’s next contract will be the most lucrative of his NHL career.

When speaking of the long-term deal at a lower cap hit, there’s an obvious risk in committing that long to a player on the back-nine of his career. It’s very likely that this season and potentially the next might be the best we ever see the Nizhny Tagil, Russia native. Especially considering, to quote Bruce Boudreau, the reckless abandon with which he plays, there seems to be a finite amount of time that Radulov can maintain his level of play, or at least his style of play.

There are seldom players who maintain their level of play through the year that they turn 36 years of age. There are even fewer number of players who play as the 30-year old does who can keep up point production at an equivalent pace. This is Radulov’s 12th season of professional hockey, which will eventually take its toll.

The team needs to sign Max Pacioretty, Carey Price and Alex Galchenyuk over the course of both proposed Radulov contracts. However if the Canadiens were to sign the playmaker to the shorter term deal, he would be off the books by the time they needed to sign Pacioretty and a year after Price would get a new contract.

The three year offer for approximately seven million might be the most beneficial deal for the Canadiens. The two million increase wouldn’t be such an incredible amount when considering the cap relief of having David Desharnais off the books at season’s end and Plekanec’s hefty salary no longer weighing on the team following next season.

Alexei Emelin‘s contract, who has been on the receiving end of some criticism, will also be coming to an end during the 2018-19 season, the year Price needs a new deal. This cap relief would be split between Radulov and Galchenyuk who is up for a raise in salary this offseason. The team looks to be cash strapped in the future with many an important contract to be signed in the form of two of the Canadiens leaders.

There’s no doubt in anybody’s sane mind that Alex Radulov is an integral part of this Canadiens team and it would be difficult to see a proficient Habs offence without him. The long term deal, although it might be the largest deal breaker for the player, is to the team’s disadvantage regardless of the price drop the longer commitment provides. For the best opportunity for the team’s success down the road, and to limit an inevitably uncomfortable cap situation, Alex Radulov needs a shorter term extension.