DALLAS – There’s a reason the Bruins have been linked to free agent Russian sniper Ilya Kovalchuk, and are still holding the door slightly ajar for 33-year-old power forward Rick Nash.
The B’s have a strong core group of proven veterans and several waves of young talent coming through their system in an effective mix of old and young that managed 112 points in the regular season. But they also clearly have some needs on their NHL roster that can’t be met simply by their own players. That fact was pretty obvious when they fell in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the playoffs.
An established goal-scorer on the second line is what all the fuss is about with Kovalchuk and Nash headed into NHL Draft weekend in Dallas, and the Bruins are clearly very interested in the 35-year-old Russian, as are San Jose, Vegas and Los Angeles.
“We talked very specifically about our roster with [Kovalchuk] and where we see him fitting in, and what he brings to the table. We’ll be excited to continue to explore, but I don’t know necessarily where it goes. The scoring potential, the size and strength [are all positives],” said Don Sweeney. “It is five years removed from the NHL [for Kovalchuk] and a lot has changed in those five years if you think about what’s transpired in the league. But I think he’ll be fine. He’s played in big stages and been very successful. He’s a unique talent and fits into a slot that we could hopefully utilize if it comes to fruition.”
There are other options on the trade market for the Bruins, however, should things fall through with big winger options in Kovalchuk and Nash.
Per Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman, Flyers power forward Wayne Simmonds was due to submit to Philly a list of teams where he could be traded and would be another good “right now” fit for the Black and Gold.
This all begs the question as to what the Bruins prefer philosophically, however.
Signing Kovalchuk would only cost the team money on a short-term deal at this point, and the Bruins have plenty of that, roughly $12 million in cap space, with the salary cap ceiling jumping to $79.5 million for next season. Signing Nash would be roughly the same money as Kovalchuk and would also back up the weighty investment the Bruins made for him at the deadline by moving Ryan Spooner, a first-round pick and prospect Ryan Lindgren for just a couple of months of the ex-Rangers forward’s services.
Dealing for a Simmonds, Jeff Skinner or Corey Perry would involve moving valuable young players, and in Simmonds’ case would also mean a big-time, big-money contract after this upcoming season. That’s a double investment from the Bruins to fill the exact same position on the second-line wing, so the natural question is whether Boston would prefer to go free agency over trades for outside help at this point.
With other NHL general managers asking for the likes of Jake DeBrusk in a lot of deals for players with term, it’s certainly something for Sweeney to consider. It will be well worth considering if the ask becomes Danton Heinen or Anders Bjork instead, and perhaps even becomes a little more of a realistic back-and-forth discussion.
“It always comes down what the terms of the deal are. You know you’re giving up assets to maybe fill up a hole that you don’t really have too. But you’re also trading off term and dollars in those situations. We’ve done that. We’ve filled some holes right and wrong in those situations, and those deals are what they are,” said Sweeney. “Certainly I think that growing and having the depth that we’ve tried to [build] for our organization has been beneficial. Now, if we have areas where a team now wants to look at that and we can trade something off to fill a definitive need….we’re going to look at that.
“I’m not opposed to it. But we also realize that we have some young players that have played just a year in the National Hockey League with some success. I’d like to continue to see how that unfolds. But it’s a good opportunity to see how other teams around the league view those players as well, and what maybe their market value is.”
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Are the Bruins getting a lot of curious phone calls about interest in their young NHL players?
“Yeah, there have been a lot of guys that have been intrigued. And I think we are as well,” said Sweeney. “We’ve peeked under the covers a bit and we just want to make sure that if we make a move it’s for the absolute right reasons. I want to make a good hockey trade if we go down that road. We’ve got good players and we’ve got good young players that have assumed roles, and hopefully, they just continue to grow.”
What to make of all this?
Sweeney is right to be cautious after spending a great deal of assets for Nash in a move that didn’t ultimately work despite the best of intentions. The Bruins have built something good and sustainable for the next five-plus years provided they can add a couple of key pieces (left shot D-man, big goal-scoring winger) sooner rather than later. It’s the right time to spend on a game-breaking free agent in Kovalchuk and give up only money in the process.
Trading away coveted young players is only the right move in deals where the Bruins are getting a piece back they are sure is going to be in Boston, and productive, for the long haul. This is why the Bruins are going to push hard for Kovalchuk if they can get him for a couple of years in the $5-6 million per season range. It’s only money to the Black and Gold, and once again this offseason they’ve got ample amounts to spend with some good options to spend it on.