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.

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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.

NHL Trade Deadline Report Cards: Which teams made the best moves?

NHL Trade Deadline Report Cards: Which teams made the best moves?

There are always winners and losers at the NHL trade deadline.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that a team is going to win a Stanley Cup, obviously, and some of the big winners at the deadline are lousy teams loading up on draft picks and assets for the future.

Still, it’s better to be moving and shaking at the trade deadline like a Carolina Hurricanes team that added Vincent Trocheck, Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen than be a non-playoff team like the Wild that made one early Jason Zucker trade with Pittsburgh before closing their shutters for the week.

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The biggest winner of all might have been the New York Rangers in retaining Chris Kreider with a seven-year contract rather than making him the biggest trade target on the market.

But each team received a grade for what they did leading up to Monday’s NHL trade deadline and we didn’t mince any words.

Click here for the gallery.

Sorry, Bruins fans: bigger doesn't always mean better

Sorry, Bruins fans: bigger doesn't always mean better

Before we begin: No, I have never gotten my ass kicked.

Celtics fans have a reputation for being sheep, but man, when it comes to predictability there isn’t a group of dummies easier to impress than Bruins fans.

Still haven't gotten my ass kicked. Probably getting closer, though.

All you have to do to win over the Bruin brigade is get someone tall and/or "physical." No one will be more willing to overlook actual effectiveness than B's fans. This is especially the case when swapping out a “softer” (though perhaps better) player.

Reilly Smith for Jimmy Hayes? Downgrade, but fans were ecstatic.

Use Loui Eriksson’s money to sign David Backes? Downgrade, catastrophic move, but fans were ecstatic.

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We got another installment this week on deadline day when the Bruins traded Danton Heinen to the Ducks for Nick Ritchie in a swap of disappointing 24-year-old left wings.  

The national reaction was not kind to Ritchie. The NHL Network's panel was particularly brutal in calling him in an overweight underachiever. 

But around here? Hoo boy, what a coup! We saw 6-foot-2, 234 pounds, 10th overall pick and a bunch of penalty minutes and dusted off Milan Lucic's 2011 jersey. 

I'll admit that as soon as I heard the Bruins traded for Nick Ritchie, I was confused. I remembered his name from the draft, but was unaware that he'd become a good player. And if he was a good player, why was he being traded? He was surely still young, unless I'd misremembered. 

Nope. He was drafted in 2014, same as Heinen. Had 14 goals as a rookie, but hasn't come close to that since. He does have eight goals in 41 games this season, but his shooting percentage this season is an absolute outlier for his career (11.4; his career shooting percentage prior was 8.3). His 19 points are aided by a four-point showing in his final game with the Ducks, the only multi-point game he's had this season. 

He does have 78 penalty minutes, but none of them are from fights. Just misconducts and tripping players who skate past him because they're faster. 

He was fifth on the Ducks in hits per 60, if you want to bring that up, but you shouldn't.  

The same people who like the "hits" stat are often the ones who discredit possession metrics. But "hits" is unquestionably a possession metric. It means you don't have the puck. There is a reason that eight of the top 15 teams in the league in hits are non-playoff teams. They are chasing the play. 

(And by the way, the Bruins are eighth in the league in hits. They absolutely don't need to "hit" more.)

So that's Ritchie in a nutshell; a not-so-good player, but I'm rooting for him. If his acquisition were met with an "eh, maybe he'll uncover something in Boston he hasn't been able to find before," this pretentious-ass column wouldn't be required.

But it wasn't, and here we are. 

And I'll say that I was totally cool with moving Heinen. That guy's arrow was pointing in the wrong direction after an impressive rookie year and so-so sophomore campaign.

So I would have traded Heinen and some combination of picks and prospects for a sure thing. If Nick Ritchie and some cap savings (which you could get anyway by trading Heinen in the offseason) was the best I could do, I would have probably passed. Heinen is not much of a loss (not the way he's played this season, anyway), but Ritchie isn't much of a gain. 

Maybe Ritchie does find new life in Boston. Maybe he becomes a good third-liner. Hell, maybe he scores early in Game 7 of the Cup Final when the other team's goalie is an absolute mess. That was the real reason the Bruins didn't win last year, not because they weren't tough enough.