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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Bruins' "Perfection Line" ready to take on the "other" best line in the NHL

Bruins' "Perfection Line" ready to take on the "other" best line in the NHL

It’s the kind of historic regular season showdown that literally hasn’t happened in NHL history.

Okay, so maybe it has.

But it certainly hasn’t happened that often.  

Three players each on both the Boston Bruins and the Colorado Avalanche have combined for 68 points in the first 17 games of the season, and that’s something that’s only happened in one season over the last 30 years. Through last weekend, the Avalanche's top line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog had combined for 69 points, one more than the Bruins Perfection line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.

It’s the most offensive firepower on top-heavy top lines since the 2005-06 season, when the Senators (Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza: 38-56—94), Flyers (Peter Forsberg, Simon Gagne and Joni Pitkanen: 30-50—80) and Thrashers (Marc Savard, Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk: 26-42—68) each had one set of teammates tally 68 or more points this early in a campaign.

Just look right now at the NHL’s top-5 in scoring and Connor McDavid is the only player on the impressive list who's not playing for Colorado or Boston. That’s pretty amazing more than a month into the regular season as both the Perfection Line and the Rocky Mountain Line keep pouring it on despite all attempts to stop them.  

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So it’s going to be a battle of super line vs. super line on Wednesday night when the Bruins travel to the Pepsi Center, and both Boston and Colorado will get to battle it out for bragging rights for the NHL’s top forward line. The B’s had most of the hype crowning them as the NHL’s best line last spring when they lit up Toronto during the playoffs, and they have the numbers to back it up. But there’s no denying that the Avalanche trio has come on strong this season for a dangerous Colorado group doing plenty of damage of their own.

It’s certainly something Bruins coach and noted offensive hockey enthusiast Bruce Cassidy is looking forward to watching play out and seeing how his top forwards respond to a big challenge… literally.  

“Size. They’re bigger than our [line]. There are some similarities. I think our guys are a little more experienced and quicker. Their guys are bigger. They can all skate obviously. Our guys might be a little more dynamic and they might be a little bigger,” said Cassidy of the 6-foot, 205-pound MacKinnon, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Landeskog and the 6-foot-4, 211-pound Rantanen. “We’ll see how the matchup goes. Our trio isn’t as big, but they have plenty of courage that makes up for that. Those guys have plenty of size and they can use that to make plays, so maybe they don’t have to be as dynamic as our guys.

“It’s hard to pick between the two lines and who you’d prefer better. I know from my point of view I love our top line and I’m sure [the Avs head coach Jared Bednar] would say the same thing. It will be good if they match up, right? If they do match up then it might settle the argument for a day, anyway. I’m sure they’ll both play very well no matter who they’re matched up with.”   

On the ice it will be up to Bergeron and Co. to shut down the other “best line in the NHL” and perhaps their dogged, determined two-way play is the area where the Bruins really do have the edge. The Bruins clearly have the best defensive player in Bergeron even as he doesn’t like to think of anything on ice as individual-oriented rather than about the entirety of the group.

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But all team platitudes aside, it doesn’t take a hockey genius to figure that the two forward groups are going to end up lining up against each other at some point while deciding who wins and who loses.

“They’re an amazing line playing with such good pace and tempo, and also making great plays. They’re young with lots of energy, so it will be a tough matchup for sure,” said Bergeron. “You can tell they have a lot of talent, a lot of skills and a lot of chemistry. I think we also have that chemistry going on. That being said, we’re just trying to approach it as the start of the long road trip. We just want to get off to a good start.

“That’s what we need to put the emphasis on, and not on the matchup. It’s how we need to compete against them. [They have] speed and skill, and they seem to be making a lot of plays in tight with bang-bang plays and tic-tac-toe passing. When you play those types of lines, you know you have your hands full. You just need to make things simple and go out and do the job.”

So will it be rugged, overpowering size and skill, or will it be chemistry, skills and good, old-fashioned two-way play that comes out on top when it’s all said and done? It will be up to the players on the ice Wednesday to settle that for at least one night when the Perfection Line and the Rocky Mountain Line vie for bragging rights in the Mile High City.  

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Bruins begin road trip with pick 'em matchup against Avalanche

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Bruins begin road trip with pick 'em matchup against Avalanche

The Boston Bruins (10-5-2) bring a two-game winning streak to Denver on Wednesday night, when goaltender Jaroslav Halak will also go for his third straight victory in net as they visit the Avalanche (8-6-3) in what is a pick 'em matchup on the NHL odds at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Boston will be kicking off a four-game road trip at Colorado after winning its last two games at home as a solid favorite.

Halak (6-1-2, 1.77 goals-against average) has seemingly been reborn so far this season while filling in for Tuukka Rask, who just returned from a brief leave of absence to tend to a family matter and is expected to start either Friday or Saturday. But against the Avalanche, it will be Halak again between the pipes after he stopped 77 of 79 shots versus the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vegas Golden Knights last Saturday and Sunday.

Meanwhile, Colorado is looking to string two straight wins together here after ending a season-high five-game losing streak with a 4-1 road victory against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday. The Avalanche had gotten off to a 7-2-2 start prior to their losing streak and beat the Oilers as small underdogs. They were also underdogs in four of the other games during their skid, with three of them coming on the road.

Some good news for Colorado in trying to win consecutive games is that the team has won the past three meetings with Boston along with six of the last eight, according to the OddsShark NHL Database. Two of the previous three wins for the Avalanche in the series have taken place on the road, and the last one was a 6-3 victory at the Pepsi Center on October 11, 2017. The Bruins were favored in all three games.

Boston is currently listed at +1200 (wager $100 to win $1,200) on the odds to win the Stanley Cup in 2019, tied for the fourth choice on the betting board with the San Jose Sharks. Colorado is further down the board at +3300 but may have some value if the team can go on another run.

The Bruins were tied for second place in the Atlantic Division with the Toronto Maple Leafs going into Tuesday's action with 22 points, and the Avalanche were fifth in the Central Division with 19 points.

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