Bruins

Ilya Kovalchuk would still look good in a B's uniform for the right price

Ilya Kovalchuk would still look good in a B's uniform for the right price

As the Bruins lament the lack of scoring from the middle of their forward lineup amid a five-game losing streak, a viable option might be just about to drop into their lap.

The latest out of Los Angeles is that Ilya Kovalchuk is about to have his contract terminated with the Kings after last playing a game for them on Nov. 19 and essentially having been told by Kings management a month ago that his time with the organization is over. The 36-year-old Russian winger has three goals and nine points in 17 games this season, but is also a minus-10 and hasn’t been all that good at any point the past few seasons with the Kings.

Kovalchuk had 16 goals and 34 points along with a minus-26 last season in 64 games, but clearly wasn’t a good fit with an L.A. team nowhere close to playoff-caliber. His three-year, $18.75 million deal was viewed at the time as a questionable contract signed to an aging, once-great player coming out of the KHL, but it was the cost to win Kovalchuk over other teams such as the Bruins that had also shown interest.

Certainly, Kovalchuk is no longer the guy that carried the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, or a player that’s capable of putting up 37 goals and 83 points as he did that season. Kovalchuk is still a 6-foot-3, 230-pound winger that can shoot, score goals and finish off plays as evidenced by his 19 goals in 81 games the past two seasons while doing it for a Kings team that’s severely lacking offensive pieces around him.  

But if Kovalchuk is either bought out of his contract or granted some kind of release from the Kings, it’s still perfectly reasonable to theorize that the Russian sniper would reach higher offensive levels skating in a second-line role with a natural playmaker such as David Krejci. It’s unclear at this point whether any interested team would have to put up his contract or be free to sign him to a new deal, but there’s no question his value is down after two rough years in L.A.

Sure, it looks like Kovalchuk is a severe defensive liability at this point in his career given that he was minus-36 over the past two seasons, but there are enough responsible defensive players for the B’s to make up for it.

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What they don’t have right now is a finisher who can spark the second line, or somebody with a natural scoring touch for the second power-play unit as well. It was a problem Bruce Cassidy highlighted after the 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night where they didn’t get much of anything from their middle two forward lines. It’s the same kind of issue that dogged the B’s in previous losses to quality opponents Colorado and Washington earlier in the stretch of five losses in a row and earlier in the season when their Perfection Line carried them.

“The top line again was creating. We’re just not getting anything from the middle of the lineup in terms of offense,” lamented Cassidy. “You need four lines to produce for you in this league on a regular basis. It might not be [on Thursday]. It might be Saturday [at Florida], but you need some offense to sort of balance things out.

“We need some guys to get going here a little bit. [They need] to at least find their opportunities and then they’ll go in. I’m not sure they’re even finding their opportunities yet, so that’s step one that they are chasing.”

It will depend on the details, of course, but if the Bruins can land Kovalchuk without surrendering much in the way of actual assets or big-time salary for a player that flamed out in Los Angeles, they need to seriously think about doing it. 

If nothing else, he gives them a much better top-six wing option than they now have with Brett Ritchie, Danton Heinen, David Backes or Karson Kuhlman, and fits along the lines of whatever the Bruins are hoping to upgrade their forward group with at the trade deadline.

It may be that Kovalchuk simply decides to head back to Mother Russia for a big-money deal and eschews the NHL moving forward after he was a spectacular flop in LA over the last couple of seasons.

Given how interested the B’s were in Kovalchuk a couple of summers ago as a free agent and how little they might have to spend to get him for the rest of the season, the Bruins need to do some serious tire-kicking on the former No. 1 overall pick who could be a revitalized force playing in a top-six role for a deep, skilled Bruins team looking to fortify a Cup run.

 


 

'What it's all about': McCourty twins donate to local Pop Warner team in need ahead of national championship

'What it's all about': McCourty twins donate to local Pop Warner team in need ahead of national championship

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty and Jason McCourty get a number of requests throughout the course of a given year. They can't act on all of them, but one popped up on their shared Twitter account recently that caught their attention.

The Lawrence 10U Pop Warner team was on the verge of something special, but they needed a hand. They were one game away from having a chance to go to Orlando to compete for the Pop Warner national championship, but they were looking for help with funding.

"I looked into it and saw before the season they almost lost the team, I guess," Devin said. "They didn't have enough money. So they raised money for the team. If they lost [before going to Orlando], they were just going to put the money back into the organization. So we both sent checks to them figuring if they win, they go. If not, it'll help them going into next year. They won."

According to Bill Burt of The Eagle-Tribune, the McCourty's sent $5,000 apiece that would help the team cover expenses to go to Orlando.

"I was going back and forth with them on Twitter, and they offered to help," coach Ryan Mustapha told the Eagle-Tribune. "I was in shock . . . They loved our story, that we're a [urban] team in a struggling city. This really, really helps us going forward."

Devin McCourty, now in his 10th NFL season, has made a point to be involved in the community in a number of ways since his rookie season. Since Jason arrived to the team in the spring of 2018, he's been all-in on a number of local causes alongside his twin.

Their Tackle Sickle Cell campaign works to raise money, awareness and increase blood donations to fight against sickle cell disease. They helped head up the Social Justice Fund, established by Patriots players, which helped raise $450,000 in grants that went to five different organizations doing work in the areas of social justice and equality. The McCourtys were also very vocal in their support for the Student Opportunity Act, an overhaul of the state's funding formula for public education that was approved last month and promises to infuse $1.5 billion into school districts over the next seven years. 

For the McCourtys, their work away from the field has allowed them to become more familiar with a place like Lawrence.

"I thought it was cool. Just from all the stuff we've been doing, hearing about different areas of Massachusetts -- I've been here 10 years but I'm not from Massachusetts," Devin said. "Just hearing of different areas and knowing some of the struggles, the city of Lawrence. For some of these kids, this may be one of the best experiences of their childhood, to be able to go to Disney and compete for a national championship. And it's fitting because it's in Title Town . . .

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"To me, sometimes you hear things, and it just aligns with everything. I remember growing up and wanting to go to Disney and seeing that on TV. Soon as we saw it, we both screen-shotted it because that makes sense to us. I think that's what I've learned since I've been in the league. You gotta just do things that you're passionate about. A lot of requests that people give us are good things, but not everything is something you'd be passionate about."

Finding those passions and diving in head-first, Devin said, is "what it's all about."

"I think it's pretty sad if football only meant the games you played, the recognition you get from playing a sport," he said. "I think especially when you think about it growing up, I wasn't the best player growing up. I only had one offer coming out of high school. There were other guys in my area that were better and then obviously as you go, as you reach further out, kids get better. I think when you get blessed with an opportunity, it's for a reason. I think the reason is to make a difference off the field. 

"As professional athletes, it's sad, but we could say the same things that teachers, parents say to kids and they'll listen more because they'll think what we're saying means more. I think that's a responsibility that's very important. It's something you gotta take seriously. But I think it's also something you have to be proud of to have that opportunity to be a role model to kids who might have a similar background to you. Sometimes worse. You can be an inspiration, give them hope. 

"In a situation like this, you can bless them with funds. They don't care about the money, but they'll remember the memories and the fact that a professional football player took the time to invest in them. I hope means more to them as they get older and realize, 'I am important, I can accomplish things that I might not see people doing right outside my window, but I can accomplish things because there are people out there that care and want to invest in me and see me do good things.' "

The McCourtys played Pop Warner for the Valley Cottage Indians in Nyack, New York. They lost in the state championship as 12-year-olds, Devin told reporters earlier this season. "You don’t forget," he said at the time, "any time you play for a championship and you don’t win it." But the memory of playing on that team -- and competing against fellow future NFL players Ray Rice and Tyvon Branch -- remains a strong one. 

That's part of the reason why the McCourtys wanted to help the Lawrence 10U team. Devin, who tries to inspire Patriots defensive backs immediately before every game with a few words, even recorded a video to be played for the Lawrence players before their first game in Florida. 

"I basically told them to go have fun," he said. "That's what it's about. To have the opportunity to go out there and compete for a championship, but compete for a championship with guys that are your friends, guys you enjoy playing with. 

"So somewhat [like a Patriots pregame speech]. Just not yelling and screaming."

After beating Northbridge, New Jersey, and Proviso Township, Illinois, in the semifinal earlier this week, the Lawrence 10U team will compete for the national title against Palmetto, Florida, on Saturday at 9:30 a.m.