B's should gamble on Kovy
Ilya Kovalchuk is finally a free man.
It did not come the way the Los Angeles Kings had hoped, as they were unable to trade the 36-year-old (not even on a retained salary trade) and had to instead terminate the Russian winger’s contract (with zero cap relief, ouch), but they’re free of the spot on their roster.
And now the question becomes, who, if anyone, will take the chance on Kovy?
Now, if I’m the Boston Bruins, I absolutely take the dip.
Keep in mind that the Bruins were interested in Kovlachuk when he first made the decision to come back to the NHL in 2018. They were not willing to match the three-year, $18.75 million offer the Kings made (and rightfully so), but they were in on Kovalchuk all the way to the bitter end. The Bruins are also a team that’s in desperate need of some scoring help beyond that first line. And if the reports out of Russia are true (the ones that say that Kovalchuk would prefer to stay in the NHL and is not against a league-minimum deal with a contender), there’s no reason for the Bruins not to call.
I mean, just look at Boston’s second line right now. It has once again been a revolving door to the right of Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci, and the Bruins are straight-up running out of options. Their best version of a second line, which sees Charlie Coyle moved out of his third-line center spot and to the right of Krejci and DeBrusk, leaves them without a third line. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy has tried Coyle, Karson Kuhlman, Brett Ritchie, Peter Cehlarik, Danton Heinen, David Backes, Anders Bjork, and double-shifting David Pastrnak. Hell, even Chris Wagner got a crack to skate with the second-line duo earlier this season. And still, not a single long-term fix has emerged.
Part of what made the Black and Gold a legitimate Cup threat last spring was the fact that they had Coyle feasting on favorable matchups against inferior third lines and third defensive pairings. Taking that away from the Bruins, while advantageous to the second line, essentially leaves the Bruins with two fourth lines given their center options on line three (and line four) as a result of that move.
There's also the fact that Kovalchuk, even as a forward who has not played since Nov. 9 and has just nine points in 17 games this season, would be Boston's ninth-most productive forward this season. Take the superhuman Bergeron Line out of that grouping and Kovalchuk would be the Black and Gold's sixth-most productive forward. Kovalchuk's 3-6-9 stat line is also better than what the B’s have gotten out of the Backes-Ritchie duo this year (they've combined for three goals and seven points). That duo is costing you a combined $7 million this year, while Kovalchuk could cost $700,000.
The math is certainly favorable to the cap-strung Bruins, and that’s the name of the game right now.
The Bruins have managed the long-term injured reserve and daily cap as best they can to maximize their chances of properly fitting a big deadline catch into the mix, and that’s something Kovalchuk detractors have been quick to bring up. But at under a million, Kovalchuk would essentially be a free sample for the Black and Gold to find a potential second-line fix without losing anything on the roster.
For a player who can still shoot the puck, and for an offense that could use a little more finish, that's a gamble you take ten times out of ten. If he struggles, you terminate the contract (like the Kings did) and move on. And you move on without severely impacting the long-term goals of your club, or your ability to swing another deadline deal to elevate your forward group back to Cup status.
But if he works out, you now have another weapon on a team that certainly needs 'em.
Here are some other thoughts and notes from around the NHL...
- Staying with the LA Kings, what the hell happened to Jonathan Quick? Sure, Quick’s stats from last night’s overtime win (37 saves on 40 shots) look good, but this was a seriously rough watch. It seemed like Quick was fighting every shot thrown his way, and surrendered some plain nightmarish rebounds that should’ve been easily banked away by the Bruins. I mean, he was fighting shots from 60 feet away, and turning every single low-percentage look into an adventure. And watching some extra film on Quick, this was not just a Tuesday in Boston problem. The surgeries have clearly taken their toll on the two-time Cup winner, I think we’d all agree, but to this level? Yeesh.
- I love the Coyotes’ decision to go all-in and trade for Taylor Hall. That’s a sneaky-old team, they’re off to a good start, and that playoff drought has been the worst thing that could’ve happened after the momentum they clearly established in their improbable run to the West Finals in 2012. And while it’s easy to look at a five-piece return and scoff, this is not the worst price you can pay for a legitimate top-line talent to plug opposite Phil Kessel. That’s a straight-up lethal line.
- Jon Cooper benching Nikita Kucherov? Things are getting hot in Tampa Bay. It’s worth wondering what their first move is going to be if things don’t turn around and get the Bolts back to where they need to be to capitalize in their Cup window before all these extensions and cap crunches kick in. I would imagine that Cooper is the first to go (that’s how it always goes), but is there a legitimately better option on the market? I’d think that Mike Babcock needs some time away from the game, and nobody is touching Bill Peters. Pete DeBoer? Is that guaranteed to be better?
Ty Anderson is a writer, columnist, and weird personality for 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, where he covers all things Boston sports. He has been covering the National Hockey League for HockeyBuzz.com since 2010, and has also been part of the Boston Chapter of the PHWA since 2013. In addition to writing, Ty can occasionally be heard on the air at 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and seen and/or heard on the NHL Network every now and then. He will not give you his email, so yell at him on Twitter (@_TyAnderson).