There’s little doubt that on some level things could potentially work between Ilya Kovalchuk and the Bruins. Who couldn’t use a big left wing who still has enough in the tank at 34 to put up 32 goals and 78 points in 60 games in the KHL last season? Or one who scored 37 goals and led his NHL team, the New Jersey Devils, to the Stanley Cup Final in his last full regular-season in North America?
The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder could team with David Krejci and David Pastrnak to be something dynamic on a Czech-Russian line that would put fear in the hearts of opposing defenses, and Kovalchuk would be dynamite on the Boston power play as a left-shot finisher.
If it was just a matter of the Black and Gold being the highest bidder as Kovalchuk reportedly returns to the NHL, then you could sign me up for it right now. It would have to be a reasonable term for the Russian who's already proven in the past he was a flight risk, but he will easily command north of $6 million per season no matter where he goes.
In this case, the Bruins should stay out of the Kovalchuk sweepstakes because it isn’t that simple for an admittedly talented player who also comes with a lot of risk. It’s going to become a bidding war for Kovalchuk once New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero starts fielding trade offers for Kovalchuk’s rights following next weekend’s NHL draft. Teams such as the New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues are already lining up as suitors.
Can you imagine Vladimir Tarasenko and Kovalchuk doing damage in St. Louis for the next five years as the best Russian tag team since Nikolai Volkov and Ivan Putski were throwing around suplexes in the squared circle?
The problem for the Bruins is that Kovalchuk isn’t going to come cheap, and he’s a little long in the tooth for a B’s group that clearly wants to get young, faster and more explosive. This is why there was some understandable head-scratching last summer when the Bruins committed five years of big money to a heart-and-soul forward in David Backes, 32, who in all fairness isn’t younger, faster or more explosive than he was in his best days with the Blues.
The Bruins would have to part with picks and prospects to bring in Kovalchuk from Jersey as the highest bidder, and then they would probably have to overpay in a contract just as they did for Backes and Matt Beleskey in each of the previous two summers. One would hope that Don Sweeney and Cam Neely have learned their respective lessons at this point about unrestricted free agency in the NHL.
Signing free agents is basically agreeing to pay premium prices for players who are already past their most effective years and hope they fit in with whatever team concept you’ve begun carefully crafting with a draft-and-development plan.
There are better options out there for a team looking for young solutions.
Gabriel Landeskog is still a trade possibility, as is Matt Duchene from Colorado. Both would be younger, better long-term solutions for the Bruins’ needs on the wing. While you might pay a higher price for Landeskog if you traded for him, you’d at least be getting the benefit of cost certainty with a lower cap hit and a player who, at 24, should be just entering his prime seasons.
The Bruins could also very well go into the start of next season hoping that Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen steps up and fills the role on the wing alongside Krejci and that they can fill that big roster void with in-house talent after failing to do that last season.
If the Bruins do need to dip their toes into free agency for a veteran option at left wing, Sweeney and Co. would be better off going smaller with less risk for that player. It was a mentality that worked very well at the trade deadline last spring when they surrendered a fifth-round pick for Drew Stafford and there were reasonable free-agent-types who wouldn’t break the bank.
Patrick Sharp is 35 and coming off a down season (eight goals and 18 points in 48 games) in Dallas due to injuries and the general malaise that sunk the Stars, but he was still a 20-goal left wing for the Chicago Blackhawks just a couple of years ago. Or perhaps Patrick Marleau, 37, if he was willing to move on from San Jose and agree to something in the two-three-year range after potting 27 goals last season - proof positive that he’s still got something left in the tank.
Those kinds of free-agent explorations would make more sense for the Black and Gold if they end up going that way, but the sense here is that the Bruins want to get younger, rather than older, on the wing. So, my advice to the Bruins as they get ready for a huge week with the expansion draft and NHL amateur draft weekend: Don’t waste any time or resources on a possible Kovalchuk chase ahead of free agency.
Instead. keep building the Black and Gold thing the right way with the right kind of players - Jonas Brodin from Minnesota or Landeskog from Colorado (if the price is right)? Avoid the shiny objects that end up looking way better on the showroom floor than they do in your driveway.