Ilya Kovalchuk

NHL Rumors: Canadiens' Ilya Kovalchuk drawing trade interest from Bruins

USA TODAY Sports photo

NHL Rumors: Canadiens' Ilya Kovalchuk drawing trade interest from Bruins

With the NHL trade deadline rapidly approaching, the Boston Bruins appear to be looking to make a splash.

One name the B's have been connected with in the past and apparently are linked to again this winter is veteran Ilya Kovalchuk. According to Sportsnet's Eric Engels, Boston has shown interest in the Montreal Canadiens forward along with the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.

Engels writes:

The Bruins intend on loading up for a second consecutive run to the Stanley Cup Final. Kovalchuk is a player they’re watching closely.

... [the Bruins] have been very impressed with what he’s done in Montreal and they understand the value of adding a player who’s shown he can fill a top-six role if they suffer an injury to a key player between now and the end of the season. It only helps that he’s competed extremely hard at both ends of the rink and that the buzz about his leadership, his energy and his sheer passion for the game make it likely he would fit well with their group.

The Bruins passed on Kovalchuk in December, so the 36-year-old landed with Montreal on a $700,000 contract. Since then, Kovalchuk has appeared in 14 games with the Habs and has tallied five goals and six assists.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

With some gas clearly left in the tank, Kovalchuk could be a nice fit on a Bruins team that looks poised for its second straight Stanley Cup run. Boston has also shown interest in New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider, though there's a chance those trade talks could come to a screeching halt.

If that's the case, Kovalchuk wouldn't be a bad choice for Plan B.

NHL trade targets: Top-6 forwards for Bruins to pursue at deadline

NHL trade targets: Top-6 forwards for Bruins to pursue at deadline

The Bruins sit at the break in the NHL regular season in first place in the Atlantic Division and are a virtual lock for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There is plenty for the Black and Gold to be proud of as David Pastrnak leads in the NHL in goal-scoring and the Perfection Line, power play and goaltending have been undeniable strengths for the team all season.

But there are also some needs on this team with the trade deadline roughly a month away, and the Bruins are expected to be active over the next month looking to improve a team that ultimately fell short in last season’s playoffs and will need some new blood on a roster that’s played a lot of hockey over the last 18 months.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

The biggest need for the Bruins remains a top-6 right wing capable of scoring goals, finishing off plays and being enough of an offensive weapon that the Bruins don’t become a one-dimensional offense in the playoffs too reliant on Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak when the going gets tough.

There won’t be any shortage of candidates for the Bruins at the deadline and really, truly it will come down to A) their desperation level to fortify their offensive attack B) the development of their young players over the next month and C) how much they are willing to give up in assets — either in a big way like with Rick Nash a couple of years ago or smaller, more reasonable moves like Drew Stafford or Marcus Johansson-level trades that actually ended up working out pretty well in the short term.

There are no shortage of trade options expected to be available at the trade deadline, so let’s go through a few of the skilled top-6 forwards that will be available (All salary information via Cap Friendly):

Chris Kreider, New York Rangers
2019-20 stats: 
48 GP, 17 G, 15 A, 117 SOG
Contract: $4.625 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2019-20, modified no-trade clause

The price may have just gone up even more with Chris Kreider getting selected as an All-Star this weekend, and it’s well-deserved given his ability to parlay skating speed and a 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame into an average of 25 goals and 50 points each season. He’s fast, he’s big and he will play on the nasty side from time to time, bringing a lot of different elements that the Bruins could use in their top-6 right now.

Kreider is Boston’s top choice at the trade deadline and will be a player that the Bruins could potentially pay a high price for as they did with Rick Nash a few years ago. Given his background as a Massachusetts native and a college hockey player, one would also expect they’d be planning to keep Kreider beyond this season if they traded for him.

Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings
2019-20 stats: 
49 GP, 12 G, 15 A, 126 SOG
Contract: $4.6 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2019-20

The 27-year-old Toffoli is a natural right wing, has a Stanley Cup title on his résumé and is on pace for 20 goals and 45 points this season for a Kings team that doesn’t have much in the way of offense at all. Toffoli has surpassed 30 goals and 50 points once in his career, but is more along the lines of a player capable of the numbers he’s putting up this season.

It certainly looks like the 6-foot, 200-pounder has lost some of his game as the Kings have edged away from competitor status, and perhaps a return to a legit Cup hopeful like the Bruins would return some of the bounce to his game. He won’t cost nearly as much as Kreider, and remains a secondary option for the Bruins should they miss out on their top targets. That being said, there will be shortage of suitors for a player like Toffoli as well.

Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils
2019-20 stats: 
44 GP, 16 G, 15 A, 103 SOG
Contract: $4.65 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2020-21, modified no-trade clause

The 28-year-old winger has really blossomed with New Jersey and has been good for at least 20 goals and 50 points in each season with the Devils while providing a deadly option on the power play. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder would bring a shooter and finishing presence to Boston’s second power play unit and is exactly the kind of player who could finish off a lot of the David Krejci set-ups that aren’t currently turning into goals.

Palmieri would undoubtedly cost the Bruins a first-round pick and a significant prospect given that he’s signed through next season and isn’t a straight “rental” player. But once again Palmieri would be a player who would likely fit into Boston’s long-term plan.

On the downside, Palmieri isn’t the ideal solution at just 5-foot-11, 185 pounds and is more of the same of what they already have, and wouldn’t necessarily give the Bruins somebody to battle with the big defensemen corps that have successfully bottled them up in the playoffs.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Montreal Canadiens
2019-20 stats: 
25 GP, 7 G, 10 A, 57 SOG
Contract: $700,000 salary cap hit, UFA after 2020-21

Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the Bruins passed on Kovalchuk when they could have signed him to a two-way, $700,000 contract, but instead traded away perfectly good assets to Montreal for his services at the trade deadline?

It would be the second time Don Sweeney would do something like that after he similarly passed on Lee Stempniak as a tryout option in training camp and then traded draft picks to Carolina in exchange for him at the trade deadline five years ago. The 36-year-old has four goals and eight points in eight games since going to Montreal and now has seven goals and 17 points in 25 games this season.

It wouldn’t be a big cost for the Bruins to acquire him, and he’s another goal-scoring talent who could be dynamic with David Krejci, and a potent finisher who could make Boston’s second PP unit a lot more dangerous.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators
2019-20 stats: 
46 GP, 19 G, 12 A, 103 SOG
Contract: $3.1 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2020-21

The Bruins could go a different route and trade for a third-line center that would allow them to push Charlie Coyle over to the wing for the rest of this season, and for a playoff run. Coyle would certainly bring the size, strength and offensive ability that the Bruins need for a top-6 wing, and J.G. Pageau is the kind of scrappy two-way center who would bring speed, tenacity and some underrated offense to the table along with penalty killing and face-off ability.

The 27-year-old is on pace for 33 goals and 54 points this season and already has three shorthanded goals in 46 games this season. Considering he’s already matched his season-high in goals and is just 12 points away from his career-high in that category too, it might be the right season to buy in on JGP as a rental before he hits free agency.

Difficult to understand why Bruins passed on no-risk, no-cost Ilya Kovalchuk

Difficult to understand why Bruins passed on no-risk, no-cost Ilya Kovalchuk

The Bruins are getting pretty much nothing offensively out of their second and third lines. Bruce Cassidy has benched both Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen in the past couple of games for their inability to play the kind of hockey required to win games as it gets later in the regular season. 

Granted, DeBrusk answered with two goals against the Sabres once he was released from the doghouse, but clearly, the Bruins think they need more from just their forwards besides Perfection Liners Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

It was only a couple of days ago that Cassidy was lamenting how Par Lindholm (two points in 25 games), Brett Ritchie (two goals, five points and a minus-5 in 23 games) and David Backes (one goal and three points in 15 games) didn’t step up when given a chance against the New Jersey Devils in a New Year’s Eve matinee loss when injuries and a Heinen healthy scratch created an opportunity for them.

It makes it all the more mystifying that the Bruins failed to jump on a chance to sign Ilya Kovalchuk to a prorated NHL minimum contract once he was cut loose by the Los Angeles Kings last month. Instead, the Bruins opted to stick with their group of underperforming middle-line forwards and now the rival Montreal Canadiens have opted to make the no-risk signing of the former No. 1 overall pick.

Sure, Kovalchuk is 36 and was a bust for a bad L.A. team while scoring 19 goals and racking up a minus-36 in 81 games over the past two seasons. So, he’s not what he once was with the Thrashers and Devils when he twice topped 50 goals and had a career-high 98 points in 2005-06. 

Still, he would also be playing in a much different, secondary position with the Bruins where he’d get a chance to bring some goal-scoring punch to a second line that badly needs it and he’d be a shooting option on a second power-play unit that doesn’t seem to have anybody on it that wants to shoot the puck. 

Even as an older, slower player, Kovalchuk can still put the puck in the net better than most of the B's forward options they are running out there. 

At worst, he would have been a no-risk proposition that the Bruins could have cut loose or sent to the minors with zero salary-cap risk if things didn’t work out. And it Kovalchuk did get reinvigorated in Boston, then the Bruins would have answered their top-six winger problem and added the extra goal-scoring punch they would need down the stretch and into the playoffs.

A trade deadline pick-up might not have even been needed if Kovalchuk really worked out for the Black and Gold at no real financial cost to Boston at all.

Instead, the Bruins opted for the status quo, with Lindholm and Ritchie bringing virtually nothing to the table but the hope that they will contribute more consistently in the second half of the season. 

Perhaps there are bigger plans for the Bruins as they get closer to the trade deadline to address their lack of quality play on the second and third line, but it’s mystifying why they passed on Kovalchuk, who represented no risk and no cost.