In dealing with the recent off-ice indiscretions of Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, Nashville Predators general manager David Poile and head coach Barry Trotz were looking at a slim opening between too much and too little punishment.
Assuming Radulov and Kostitsyn are both back in the lineup Monday night after a two-game, team-issued suspension, as Trotz has strongly hinted at, the bosses nailed the matter perfectly.
After the Predators returned home with a 2-0 series deficit glowering at them, the management properly dealt with the irresponsible parties by dressing 20 players with a more certifiable interest in the team for Games 3 and 4.
Upon splitting those matches, Nashville now faces elimination as the series shifts back to Arizona for the fifth game. But even if this were in a 2-2 knot, the Radulov-Kostitsyn saga has still run its course.
Now is the time for the two reinstated forwards and the rest of the Predators to take to a literally and figuratively fresh sheet at the scene where their hole was dug to begin with.
Now is the time for both Radulov and Kostitsyn to have their reformation tested, especially in case Nashville’s campaign closes on Monday and the two have free agency to look forward to instead of Game 6.
Will they pursue redemption for themselves by way of fresh-legged feistiness with an expressed hunger to redress the team’s stature in the series? Or will they prove they have learned nothing by (however subtly or overtly) mailing in a well-wish to the Coyotes in their conference final confrontation with the Kings?
By keeping Radulov and Kostitsyn out for yet a third game—the first elimination game—Trotz would risk denying them the chance to answer that critical question. In turn, he would deny his higher-up, namely Poile, the chance to make a fair evaluation as to the pending free agents’ commitment and worth to the franchise.
If these players had violated team policies in the midst of helping the Predators go down 3-0 or 3-1 as opposed to 2-0, a sit-down still would have been necessary for at least one game. Every playoff game inevitably brings every team an exponential level of desperation, and any action expressing disregard for the good of the group signals an equal level of punishable nonchalance.
But what’s happened has happened, and enough time has passed for the Predators to stop dwelling on Radulov on Kostitsyn, assuming the two men themselves are willing to move forward.
If in Game 5 they prove they are not and it costs Nashville any more action in the 2011-12 season, then Poile and Co. will know it is time for those players to move out. Such members of the established core as Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, pending free agents themselves, could not ask for a stronger case to stay with the Preds as they continue their climb to contention.