Yes, the CBA allows Radulov to return to the NHL without clearing waivers
The league and the NHLPA have agreed that Alexander Radulov will be allowed to return to the Predators without clearing waivers. Is this the right call according to the CBA, or is it a violation of the CBA which the league and union are ignoring for some nefarious reason?
The argument that Radulov is required to clear waivers is simple: the CBA requires that all players who start the season in Europe must clear waivers before returning to the NHL during that same season.
The argument that Radulov is waiver-exempt goes like this: when Radulov bolted for the KHL, in 2008, he had played two years and 145 games of the three-year entry-level contract he signed in 2006, when he was 20 years old. Players who sign their first contract at 20 have three years or 160 games of waiver-exemption. For 20 year olds, NHL and AHL games count against the 160. Radulov played 11 AHL games in 2006. Therefore, had Radulov stayed in the NHL, his waiver-exemption would have extended through the first 4 games of the next season.
GMs (and fans) who believe Radulov ought to be required to clear waivers are arguing that it's been six years since he signed that contract, so his waiver-exemption expired three years ago.
Undoubtedly, David Poile's argument is that, since Radulov was not loaned to the KHL, since he was "AWOL", the clock on Radulov's three years of exemption stopped as soon as he stopped honoring his contract. No one has questioned whether or not Nashville retains Radulov's rights. Well, part of those rights is Nashville's right to exercise Radulov's waiver-exemption. The whole point of the exemption is that it's in everyone's best interests that teams be allowed to freely develop their prospects (by allowing them to play at the level that is most appropriate for their development) without having to worry about losing those players to the competition. Nashville's contract with Radulov owes the Predators another 4 games or one full season (whichever comes first) of waiver-exemption.
It occurs to me that, as irritated as some GMs are reported to be by this development, I'm sure those same GMs will be happy to know that -- if there were to be a work-stoppage in our future -- the waiver-exemptions of their own prized prospects will be intact whenever the league gets around to playing again. And I'm guessing the league has an interest in working with the KHL to smooth out Radulov's KHL contract issues (should he return to Russia), just in case the NHL might need the cooperation of the KHL in the near future regarding the comings and goings of players prevented from playing in the NHL due to a work-stoppage.