Haggerty: Bruins don't need to get caught up in Kovalchuk Sweepstakes

Haggerty: Bruins don't need to get caught up in Kovalchuk Sweepstakes

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. 

Bruins go for a defensive project late with Daniel Bukac

nhl_draft_2_062417.jpg

Bruins go for a defensive project late with Daniel Bukac

CHICAGO – The Bruins finished up their 2017 NHL Draft class with a bit of a project, but a 6-foot-5 defenseman with some great skating wheels is a pretty good way to go with a seventh round pick. The B’s nabbed Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Daniel Bukac with the 204th pick in the draft, and admitted afterward that he’s an ultra-big bodied player that could take some time in the development process.

Bruins assistant GM Scott Bradley said Boston is more than happy to be patient with Bukac given the tools that he’s working with as an 18-year-old prospect. Bukac had two goals and 17 points to go along with 38 penalty minutes in his first season in North America after coming over from the Czech Republic, and Bradley said that B’s scouts noted that he continued to improve and get comfortable as the season wore on.

"He's raw. He's a project. [He’s a] kid from the Czech Republic that played in the Western Hockey League,” said Bradley. “At the start of the year - he's come leaps and bounds with his development. Talking to the people - the coaches, the management, and the GM in Brandon, they're very excited about him coming back to Brandon. They're expecting big things from him. We look forward to seeing him in camp."

Bukac is starting to garner some good international experience after playing for the Czechs in the Under-18’s and the Ivan Hinkla Tournament, but this weekend it was all about his addition to the talented group of Bruins prospects in the hockey world.

"I'm so excited to be drafted by the Boston Bruins," said Bukac, who described himself as a solid two-way defenseman with a good first pass. "It's an awesome feeling. I'm so glad that I was drafted by Boston."

Bruins take a flier on skilled Victor Berglund in 7th round

2017_nhl_draft_062417.jpg

Bruins take a flier on skilled Victor Berglund in 7th round

CHICAGO – While the Bruins went strong two-way defenseman early in the 2017 NHL Draft, they took a shot at a more offensive-minded Swedish defenseman late with seventh-round pick of Victor Berglund.

The six-foot, 165-pound Berglund clearly has a way to go in physical development and will need to get much bigger and stronger before he’s potentially ready for the North American pro ranks, but B’s assistant GM Scott Bradley raved about the Swedish defenseman’s skill set and potential. He also noted that Boston’s entire European scouting contingent, including former B’s forward PJ Axelsson, were fully on board with taking a flier on a talented player that simply needs to develop in the Swedish hockey system.

“Our Swedish guys were on top of Berglund. They think he’s a mobile D, he’s ultra-skilled and he skates well. He’s a six-footer, but [PJ Axelsson, Svenake Svensson and Victor Nybladh] were all pounding the table for him,” said Bradley. “We went along with it and I think we might have something there. Talking to his strength coach after the fact he’s working on putting some muscle and weight on, so we look forward to seeing him at development camp.”

In 62 games at three different levels, Berglund posted five goals and 18 points last season and displayed the kind of speed, creativity and play-making that one needs from their defensemen in today’s NHL.

"I'm an offensive defenseman, who likes to play with the puck, with a great short pass," said Berglund. "I like to follow the rush up ice and want the puck."

It will be a matter of building size and strength and for Berglund to continue developing his game in Sweden for the time being, but the Bruins are certainly happy with him at the 195th pick in Saturday’s second day of the draft.