Bruins

Kovalchuk goes to Kings with 3-year deal

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Kovalchuk goes to Kings with 3-year deal

DALLAS – The Bruins missed out in their hunt for big-ticket, free-agent winger Ilya Kovalchuk after he’s signed a three-year, $18-plus million deal with the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings appeared to be the front-runner for the 35-year-old Russian sniper’s services as talks escalated with LA, Boston, Vegas and San Jose the past few weeks, and, in the end, they were the team willing to meet the Russian’s asking price.

Kovalchuk’s agent, JP Barry, had zeroed in on Patrick Marleau as a comparable asking price after he signed a three-year, $18.75 million deal with the Maple Leafs prior to this season. That’s exactly what Kovalchuk got from the Kings. It's a contract rich term and dollars for an admittedly talented player, who hasn’t laced up the skates in the NHL the past five years.

So, it’s understandable that the Bruins opted not to overextend for a gifted, aging player who enters the NHL with a lot of question marks to be answered. There are a lot of factors that make Kovalchuk less than comparable to Marleau. It’s been five seasons since Kovalchuk played in the NHL and the Russian winger bolted out on his last contract with the New Jersey Devils prior to jumping to the KHL. 

The more comparable low-end-of-the-range player to Kovalchuk in terms of circumstance is Alexander Radulov, who signed a one-year, $5.25 million contract with the Montreal Canadiens after returning from Russia following his time with the Nashville Predators. He signed his big deal with the Dallas Stars after posting 18 goals and 54 points with the Habs in the 2016-17 season.

Clearly, Kovalchuk deserves a little more than Radulov based on his past accomplishments in the NHL, so splitting the high/low difference would have left an offer in the two-year, $13-14 million range that would have been fair to both sides. Instead, the Kings gave Kovalchuk exactly what they wanted and it’s up to the Bruins to start over, whether that means stepping up talks with Rick Nash, making a pitch for a UFA forward James van Riemsdyk or getting involved with discussions when/if Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm or Wayne Simmonds become available in trade talks.

Either way, it’s the Bruins going to different options than what they were hoping for as they clearly thought the game-breaking Kovalchuk could be a very good fit heading into next season.

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Watch Bruins break out into fake line brawl at the end of practice

Watch Bruins break out into fake line brawl at the end of practice

The Bruins have clearly been stuck in a rut as of late while losing back-to-back regulation games for the first time this season, and stuck in a three-game losing streak where they developed some bad habits at the end of an eight-game winning streak.

It’s not really that big of a deal for a B’s hockey club that still holds a double-digit lead in the division, but a 5-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Monday night really didn’t set them up for a promising road trip with Washington, Tampa Bay and Florida all on the schedule for the rest of the week. With that in mind, the Bruins opted for a little stress relief at the end of Tuesday’s practice in Washington as things devolved into a chaotic, raucous faux line brawl on the ice.

It all started with Tuukka Rask giving up a goal at the end of a game at practice and then smashing his stick repeatedly over the crossbar, and then mass chaos ensued with a sea of Bruins players tackling each other on the ice.

It’s fun to see the Bruins blow off some steam and show they can have a little fun amidst a frustrating stretch, but it would also be nice to see them play with the same kind of energy in their games after sleepwalking through the first portions of games during their current losing streak.

In the old time hockey days, a team might have pre-planned a line brawl situation on the ice to snap out of a slump, or change the energy at a time when the schedule is getting demanding on the players with the Christmas break still weeks away.

But these days the Bruins will have to settle for a little phony shoving and play-punching against each other at the end of practice with the real thing — a big, tough customer in the Washington Capitals — getting ready to host them for a potential Eastern Conference Final preview on Wednesday night.

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How Bruce Cassidy could shake up lines to give struggling Bruins a jolt

How Bruce Cassidy could shake up lines to give struggling Bruins a jolt

Hard times have arrived for the Bruins, at least temporarily.

Boston has lost two regulation games in a row for the first time all season and three games in a row for just the second time all season while falling into complacency with a massive 11-point lead in the Atlantic Division over the next closest team in Florida.

Since dropping eight goals against the Canadiens in an embarrassing blowout win at the Bell Centre a couple of weeks ago, the offense has also slowed down for the Bruins with 16 goals scored over the last seven games. Some of it was about Patrice Bergeron being out of the lineup with a lower body injury, but some of it might also be the team literally crying out for some changes among the forward group combinations.

Now with Bergeron back after scoring a goal against the Senators on Monday night, Bruce Cassidy can actually fool around with his tried and true combinations.

With that in mind, here’s a modest proposal for some line combinations that might just work for the Black and Gold with it feeling like things have gotten a little stale over the last week as ennui seems to have struck with a Bruins team not getting pushed by anybody right now:

Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Anders Bjork

This is perhaps Boston’s best chance to mix and match their forward lines while looking to get some diversity in their scoring attack during 5-on-5 play. Bjork brings the same kind of skating speed and youthful exuberance that David Pastrnak already brings to this line, and it seems that now Bjork understands the doggedness and two-way responsibilities he’ll need to pay attention to in order to stay at the NHL level.

Best of all, playing with Marchand and Bergeron could give Bjork more scoring opportunities and really boost his confidence to turn into the goal-scoring source he was projected to be when he first signed with the Bruins. The trick would be switching Bjork from left wing to his off-wing on the right side where he’s had challenges in the past, but it seems like he’s better-equipped to deal with it now that he’s healthy and a couple of years into his NHL career.

Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-David Pastrnak

There are Bruins fans everywhere clamoring for Krejci and Pastrnak to play together given their natural, Czech-born chemistry and some of the success that they have had in the past. Sliding Pastrnak down to the B’s second line would really make each of Boston’s top two lines formidable in their own right, and make them much more difficult to defend while not being quite as top-heavy as they are with the Perfection Line.

The one concern in the past has been that Pastrnak doesn’t score at quite the same rate when he’s away from Bergeron and Marchand, and that DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak can probably be exploited a bit defensively. That’s part of the reason Danton Heinen is with them right now given his attention to detail playing a strong two-way game. But Krejci and Pastrnak can be fun to watch and could bring some pizzazz to the second line.

Danton Heinen-Charlie Coyle-David Backes 

This would be a return to the third-line glory years of a couple of seasons ago when Heinen and Backes were the two wings and Riley Nash was the center who seemed to bring the best out of them. This line certainly wouldn’t be the fastest given that Coyle is the best skater of the three, but it would be offensively viable with all three forwards capable of scoring 15-plus goals in a season.

Also, the massive size of both 6-foot-3, 220-pound Coyle and 6-foot-3, 215-pound Backes would give the Bruins' third line a heavy, thumping style of play that could wear down other teams while playing the puck possession game. They wouldn’t be all that dynamic, but it could be a really effective third line if the top two forward lines are based on speed and skill.

Chris Wagner-Sean Kuraly-Brett Ritchie

Certainly an argument could be made for Joakim Nordstrom to be here and really he’s done nothing to get taken out of the lineup. But this humble hockey writer’s opinion is that the fourth line isn’t playing with the same jam and physicality as consistently as they did last season, and that is a big-time need on this Bruins team this season.

So this combo could be a big, heavy and punishing group capable of both playing against other teams' top lines and bringing energy, thump, or whatever is needed for a group that is going through the motions right now. A lot of it comes down to Ritchie, though, who needs to play to his size and strength more often if it’s all going to work. Otherwise the Bruins might as well just go with Nordstrom and utilize Ritchie as their extra forward until the light bulb goes off for him.

Bonus line combo: Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Charlie Coyle

This isn’t likely to be a line combo you’ll see much unless injuries hit, but shifting the big, strong Coyle to the wing and bringing his power forward game to the top line could be a great match.

Certainly Coyle might not be the shoot-first presence that one is usually looking for at the right wing spot alongside Bergeron and Marchand, but the one consistent way to frustrate that line is for a big defensive corps to wear them down physically while pushing them away from the net. It’s what the Tampa defense did successfully in the playoffs a couple of years ago and it’s what St. Louis was able to do against them in the Stanley Cup Final last season.

Coyle would make it a lot more difficult to push around the other two parts of the Perfection Line, and that could be a successful look against bigger D-men personnel. It would require Par Lindholm to be inserted into the lineup (and Backes or Ritchie scratched) as the third-line center, but that’s entirely doable based on Boston’s forward depth.

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