Sure, it sounds ridiculous: why would the Bruins, who had themselves a pretty good run last season relying on plenty of youth, go out and sign a 35-year-old wing who hasn’t played an NHL game in more than five years?
Admittedly, that was my first thought. I saw the comments by Darren Dreger and figured, “yeah...no. Why would the Bruins bother?”
Now here we are, a few hours later, and I have a confession to make: I’ve talked myself into it.
I am officially on board the Ilya Kovalchuk Hype Train.
Based on what they did at last season’s trade deadline, it’s clear that the Bruins think they need a natural scorer to get the most out of David Krejci. They’d hoped Rick Nash would be that scorer, but he was never able to fully get going after his concussion. As it stands, the Bruins are going to head into this coming season without that natural scorer.
“What about Ryan Donato?!?!” you say. “Or Anders Bjork?? Or Danton Heinen???? JUST PLAY ONE OF THE KIDS!”
Yeah, that’s a great strategy...if it works. The Bruins got great production out of Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen this year. It’s not really fair (or a good strategy) to simply assume Donato, Bjork, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, etc. can just step in and duplicate that production.
If you’re thinking it’s equally silly to assume that Ilya Kovalchuk can fly over from Russia and start producing at an elite NHL level, you’re not wrong. But Kovalchuk has done it before in the NHL, and has done it pretty consistently in the KHL since bailing on New Jersey.
The Bruins do have other options, of course. They could bring back Nash on a short-term deal. They could make a trade for a guy like Mike Hoffman (JUST AS A SUGGESTION). They could, as many of you will undoubtedly suggest, “PLAY THE KIDS.”
But last year showed that the team does, in fact, think second-line scoring is an issue. DeBrusk should continue to improve this season, and yeah, maybe Donato or Bjork will add some punch to that unit.
However, bringing in a scorer of Kovalchuk’s caliber increases the likelihood of getting scoring from that second trio. If Bjork, Donato, etc. turn out to be awesome too, even better — now you have a deeper, more balanced lineup.
Kovalchuk is 35, so there should be concerns about how much he has left in the tank. But he’s not really a guy who relied solely on speed or strength, two assets that are among the first to go with age. He made his living with his wicked shot, be it a wrister on a breakaway or a one-timer on the power play. There’s no reason to think he won’t be able to shoot as a 35-year-old, right?
He played on the left in Atlanta, but also played on the right in New Jersey, so the Bruins should be able to find a space for him.
There are two big questions here, obviously: can Kovalchuk still play and can the Bruins entice him to play here? The former will have to be answered on the ice, and we can only speculate on the latter.
Reports indicate that Kovalchuk wants to play for a team that has a chance to win. The Bruins can offer that. He also may want a multi-year deal. The Bruins can offer that, but shouldn’t.
That’s likely to be the biggest sticking point when it comes to getting Kovalchuk to Boston. If the Bruins are going to help themselves, they’d need him for a year, two years max. He may want a three- or four-year deal, and the Bruins shouldn’t even entertain that thought.
Give him an Iginla-type deal: a one-year run with some incentives given to a guy who wants a chance to win before he hangs ‘em up.
The Bruins currently have around $8 million in cap space, per CapFriendly. That doesn’t include new contracts for Anton Khudobin, Matt Grzelcyk, Tim Schaller and a few others.
However, it also doesn’t include the upcoming bump in the salary cap. The cap is going to go up to at least $78 million, and could go as high as $82 million. This means the Bruins could have as much as $15 million to play with. PLENTY OF ROOM. LET’S GO SHOPPING.
If the Bruins could get Kovalchuk to sign for a year and $7 million, do it. Overpay for a year if it’s only a year.
If they could get him for two years and $13 million, give it some serious thought. However, I’m hesitant to go more than a year due to new contracts for Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy, among others.
Get a real offensive weapon and give it another shot while Zdeno Chara is still here, while Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak are firing on all cylinders, while you’re still letting the kids get their NHL feet underneath them.
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - Ilya Kovalchuk
I like it.
The bottom-six forwards could be put in a blender. Danton Heinen, David Backes, Ryan Donato, Ryan Fitzgerald, Peter Cehlarik, Noel Acciari, Tim Schaller, Sean Kuraly...go nuts.
The Bruins went for it at the deadline and it didn’t work out.
Why not give it another shot? If Kovalchuk comes over and flames out big time, it’s a short-term deal; hell, they might even be able to move him to a contender at the deadline for a draft pick.
If he can still score, they’d roll out one of the most dangerous top two lines in the league.
It’s a gamble, sure. But it’s one that isn’t going to do too much damage if it doesn’t pan out, and isn’t going to interfere with long term plans.
Roll the dice, Don.