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The NHL season is coming to a close shortly and all of hockey land’s focus will shift to the June 21st Expansion Draft, which means a lot of guesswork and hypotheticals for every team in the league.

The parity in today’s NHL raises the importance of this draft even higher. Losing a strong middle piece player can torpedo a team’s chances of winning. It’s brutal out there.

There are hard decisions to make, and naturally the Canadiens have some big ones to make themselves – none more glaringly obvious than what to do with Alexander Radulov. Should he hit June 21st without a contract, and he’s unprotected by the Canadiens, Las Vegas is open to start hashing out contract details in the hopes of signing him.

So, clearly, the question is what to the Canadiens do? Do they protect him even if he hasn’t signed a contract and hope to sign him by July 1st? Do they not protect him, protect another player under contract, and hope to re-sign him?

Logic dictates that Bergevin should sign him to a fairly lucrative contract, with term, yesterday. Based on his play during the season and in the playoffs, this is a guy who’ll get you to the playoffs and then through them, going by Bergevin’s player rating metric. Send a message to the league that the Habs want to win now and they’re not afraid of signing big contracts.

It’s not that cut and dry, I get it, but still, Radulov needs to be signed here.

But I digress, the question is, as it stands now, should they protect Radulov with his one-year contract expiring? Flatly, yes. Ideally, no, but unless the player and/or his agent have said with absolute certainty he will not re-sign, you keep him and do whatever you can to extend his contract before July 1st.

There is speculation circulating that the Canadiens have a verbal agreement on a contract but won’t finalize it until after the Expansion Draft, which would allow them to essentially protect an extra player. While that sounds sweet, it’s far from a done deal. There’s only three people who know what’s going on, I doubt anyone else has any insight aside from speculation.

Protecting him is a very risky play, probably even a stupid one, as the team would run the risk of losing two key players should they protect Radulov and he doesn’t end up signing and Las Vegas poaches a player that is a solid mid-team guy.

However, here you have an impact, scoring player, something the Canadiens have been lacking for years and he enjoys playing in Montreal. Read again. An impact, scoring player that enjoys playing in Montreal.

Sure, everyone says it’s an Original Six city, great history, every player needs to play here, etc. The reality is they’re in a Canadian market with a weak dollar, high provincial taxes, overly aggressive media in two languages and emotionally unstable fans. Now tell me with a straight face every single NHL player would give up better situations for that? I’m a fan of the club, the city and the province, but I’m also a realist.

Take a look at Radulov’s play during the third quarter of last season. The team was slumping hard, nothing seemed to be working and his offensive totals dropped. He was still hitting the corners like it was overtime and working like the game could be won, regardless of how out of reach the game might have been.

And he wants to play in Montreal.

Sign him before the Expansion Draft. If not, protect him and make sure you sign him before the free agent frenzy July 1st, or someone will definitely pay him for a long time. If they can’t hang on to him, then the Habs will let a game breaker slip through their fingers when they were in the driver’s seat to keep him.

That doesn’t happen to winning teams.