Bruins

Sweeney indicates ball is in Kovalchuk's court after Friday meeting

Sweeney indicates ball is in Kovalchuk's court after Friday meeting

DALLAS – The beat goes on in the chase for winger Ilya Kovalchuk as his camp had discussions on Friday afternoon with the four finalists for the Russian free agent, the Bruins, Kings, Golden Knights, and Sharks. Don Sweeney indicated that the ball is now in the 35-year-old winger’s court, and it’s up to him to decide.

“We put our position forth. He’s got plenty of options that he’s mulling over as we discussed, and he said he’d get back to us,” said Don Sweeney. “Really, it’s on their time frame. [We talked about] about where you have to be at, and what they predict the range is. Maybe all bids aren’t in and maybe that range will move. But they certainly gave a range and an indication of where you need to be. The terms can always vary until you get something agreed upon on paper. We’ve been consistent that we’d be in the ballpark.”

The high range could be, as was reported on NBCSportsBoston.com, that Kovalchuk’s camp is looking for a comparable deal to the three-year, $18.75 million contract Patrick Marleau signed with Toronto ahead of this past season. But there are a lot of factors that make Kovalchuk less than comparable to Marleau at this point in time. 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 at the NHL level, so splitting the high/low difference would leave an offer in the two-year, $13 million range that would be fair to both sides. That should be the ballpark that the Bruins are currently in, and the lengths that they go in terms of term and money for a 35-year-old player that has some things prove all over again in a league that’s much faster and skill-oriented than in his previous go-round.

The B’s are in a position where they don’t need to over-extend for a player like Kovalchuk and get themselves into a situation where they pay too much for an aging free agent as they did with Matt Beleskey and David Backes in previous years. 

If things don’t work out with Kovalchuk, then expect things will start kicking up with free agent power forwards like Rick Nash and James van Riemsdyk as the Bruins look for that offensive punch on their second line. 

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Ondrej Kase set to make his Bruins debut against Dallas

Ondrej Kase set to make his Bruins debut against Dallas

A couple days after watching Nick Ritchie make his Bruins debut on the TD Garden ice, new B’s teammate Ondrej Kase is set to make his debut for the Black and Gold on Thursday night against the Dallas Stars.

Kase has been out since Feb. 7 with what the Ducks called the “flu” and the Bruins have termed an upper body injury, but it was suspected to be a concussion suffered in a game against the Maple Leafs.

Kase said he “can’t wait for the game” after skating on a second line at morning skate with Ritchie on the left wing and David Krejci as the playmaking center during line rushes. It certainly should be a good match between a passer in Krejci and a shooter in Kase, but that will play out on the ice as it always does when Bruce Cassidy starts tinkering with his forward lines.

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Ritchie and Kase played together quite a bit in Anaheim with Adam Henrique as center between the two wingers, and that should augment the chemistry between those two and Krejci in their maiden B’s voyage.

"What I’ve heard is they played together with Henrique in Anaheim and had some success. Sometimes having some familiarity right out of the gate’s not a bad thing, especially when we’re trying new lines,” said Cassidy. “Krejci is the one that will have the biggest adjustment because he’s got two new wingers. [Ritchie] is a big body on one side and Krejci is accustomed to that over the years. [Ritchie] is a guy that goes to the net and makes plays off the wall, and that’s one thing that he did well the other night.

"We’re not expecting instant chemistry. If we get it, then fantastic, and if we don’t then we’ll keep working on it.”

Jake DeBrusk will drop to the third line with Charlie Coyle and Anders Bjork in an intriguing combination, and it looks like Joakim Nordstrom, Anton Blidh, Connor Clifton and John Moore will continue to sit out against the Stars. Jaroslav Halak gets the start for the Bruins after he was honored prior to Tuesday night’s game for his milestone 500th start at the NHL.

Here are the projected Bruins line combos and D-pairings against the Stars based on morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena:

PROJECTED LINES

Brad Marchand Patrice Bergeron David Pastrnak
Nick Ritchie David Krejci Ondrej Kase
Jake DeBrusk Charlie Coyle Anders Bjork
Sean Kuraly Par Lindholm Chris Wagner

DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS

Zdeno Chara Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk Jeremy Lauzon

STARTING GOALIE

Jaroslav Halak

NHL needs to leave emergency goalie system exactly as it is

david_ayres_hurricanes.jpg
USA TODAY Sports photo

NHL needs to leave emergency goalie system exactly as it is

You’ve got to hand it to the NHL. They are masterminds when it comes to fixing things that are 100 percent, absolutely not broken.

After making headlines across the world last week with the feel-good story of 42-year-old AHL Zamboni driver and amateur goaltender David Ayres, who stepped in to play emergency goaltender for the Carolina Hurricanes in Toronto, the NHL has an eye toward tweaking the EBUG (Emergency Backup Goaltender) rules that allowed it all to happen in the first place.

Ayres exited to an ovation from his fellow Torontoians after stopping eight of 10 shots in Saturday’s Carolina win while earning the “W’ over the Maple Leafs after both James Reimer and Petr Mrazek left the game due to injury.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney was asked about it earlier this week and admitted the whole thing was “great theater” while stopping short of saying the emergency goalie system needed to change.

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“It’s a great story for the person. It’s got a 'Rudy' effect to it. [It] made for great theatre for everybody. I think I’ll hold my comments other than that. We’ve got upcoming meetings and I’m sure it’ll be on the docket as to whether or not we can do something to tweak or improve it,” said Sweeney. “I think that remains to be seen. It’s been an area where we’ve talked about addressing, but I’ll refrain from any further comment other than it was great theatre.”

Ayres is normally the Zamboni driver for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, but he’s also served as a practice goalie for Toronto when the Maple Leafs have needed help occasionally throughout the season.

This is something fairly commonplace within most of the 31 NHL organizations where there’s a need for extra goaltenders to face shots at practice if they want to give their top two guys occasional rest during the season, or to perhaps give rehabbing players somebody to shoot at if the rest of the NHL team is on the road.

Mass. State Trooper and former Salem State College goalie Keith Segee is one of several goaltenders serving the EBUG role for the Boston Bruins during games at TD Garden. Former Northeastern University goaltender Adam Geragosian likewise served as an EBUG for the Black and Gold in the first few seasons after the system was implemented.

The way the EBUG system works is that the emergency goalie at each of the 31 NHL rinks could potentially play for either the home or visiting team if they run into a situation where both goalies get injured during the game.

It happened a couple of seasons ago with the Chicago Blackhawks when they needed accountant Scott Foster to step in and protect a lead for them in a game that the Blackhawks won despite the use of the emergency goalie.

In both instances, Ayres and Foster quickly became folk heroes after making their unexpected NHL debuts and inspired thousands of goalies across the world that maybe someday their number could get called in an EBUG situation. Ayres appeared on the "Today Show" and the "Late Show with Stephen Colbert" during a flurry of media appearances earlier this week and captured national attention like few things in the NHL do during the regular season.

His story as a friendly Canadian rink worker and kidney transplant survivor is exactly the kind of everyman success story that everybody loves and can relate to.

The whole EBUG thing is also exactly the kind of viral marketing event and unique wrinkle that separates the NHL from other sports if the league plays it exactly right. Old school hockey people may scoff at it all and say that dropping a goalie like Ayres into a game with possible playoff implications tarnishes the purity of the game.

This humble hockey writer says that those crusty hockey types need to lighten up and realize that the EBUG scenario is rare, but it’s also something that gives the NHL its own special connection to the fans.

The truth is that the EBUG goalies are uniquely equipped to handle the emergency duties given they have some prior connection with an NHL team, and many of them face NHL caliber shots and situations in practice with their teams. This is why any theoretical doomsday scenarios of amateur goalies getting injured or getting lit up for 10 goals simply don’t make sense.

If these goalies are good enough to participate in an NHL practice setting, then they are good enough to play in an NHL game in a pinch. It’s not like they are randomly pulling somebody out of the stands and strapping goalie equipment on them while asking them to stop 108.8-mph Zdeno Chara slapshots.

The two EBUG goalies who have actually seen action are undefeated, did their jobs and showed that this isn’t a situation where anybody — aside from the Maple Leafs players — should worry about getting embarrassed on the ice. It’s a system that’s literally working as exactly as designed and it’s absurd that the NHL would tinker with it at all.

Fast-forward to today and the NHL is expected to discuss the EBUG rules at the GM Meetings, with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly saying that it comes up whenever the situation for an emergency goalie arises.

“When it happens, it obviously raises everybody’s attention to the issue and whether there are fixes that need to be made to that particular issue,” said Daly. “We want to make sure people aren’t putting themselves in danger by playing in a National Hockey League game.”

Let’s be honest here.

There was no clarion call to change the emergency goalie rules a couple of seasons ago when Foster did the job for Chicago. This is all coming up because the Toronto Maple Leafs were embarrassed by their 42-year-old Zamboni driver beating them with the visiting Hurricanes last weekend, and now there’s a call to change things so something like that doesn’t happen again in the center of the NHL universe in Toronto.

That’s as much reason as anything to not change the current EBUG system when it all worked as well as it did last weekend.

Perhaps logic and common sense will prevail and the NHL will opt to leave things as they are with the emergency goaltenders, but the sneaking suspicion is that the league wants to tinker with something unbroken.

And that’s too bad, because the National Hockey League has stumbled onto something brilliant here, and the league could use a David Ayres-type story or two every season.