Don Sweeney

Sweeney on Kovalchuk: 'We feel we're a team he has strong interest in'

Sweeney on Kovalchuk: 'We feel we're a team he has strong interest in'

DALLAS – The Bruins are officially interested in 35-year-old free agent winger Ilya Kovalchuk, and have held extensive enough discussions with the Russian star’s camp to discuss what kind of role he’d be expected to play with the Black and Gold. It sounded like the B’s haven’t made any hard offers to Kovalchuk’s camp at this point in the proceedings, but they are very clearly interested in a right winger that could fit in very nicely as a game-breaking scorer with David Krejci on their second line.

Don Sweeney said there aren’t any timelines or face-to-face meetings set up with the winger at this point, but the interest remains high from Boston if Kovalchuk decides to pursue things with the Black and Gold. 

“We’ve spoken to their camp. We have not met with them in person, but we’ve spoken and had numerous conversations with his representatives about where they’re at. We feel we’re a team he has strong interest in and we’ll see where it goes between now and however long he takes to make his decision,” said Sweeney of the Kovalchuk pursuit. “We’re in a position to explore it. We talked very specifically about our roster with him and where we see him fitting in, and what he brings to the table. We’ll be excited to continue to explore, but I don’t know necessarily where it goes. 

“The scoring potential, the size and strength [are all positives]. It is five years removed from the NHL [for Kovalchuk] and a lot has changed in those five years if you think about what’s transpired in the league. But I think he’ll be fine. He’s played in big stages and been very successful. He’s a unique talent and fits into a slot that we could hopefully utilize if it comes to fruition.”

It certainly sounds like Kovalchuk is still weighing the pros and cons of free agent NHL suitors like the Bruins, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights among others, and determining which teams could put him in the best position to succeed and compete for a Cup. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder certainly may not be the guy that last scored 37 goals and 83 points for the New Jersey Devils in his final full NHL season, but Kovalchuk still topped 30 goals and 60 points in 53 KHL games last season in addition to winning a gold medal for Team Russia. 

It’s expected that Kovalchuk wouldn’t be looking for a long-term deal at this point in his career, and something in the two-year, $12 million range would be a fair offer for a player looking to reestablish himself after bolting from the NHL five years ago. The Bruins are also keeping the door open for 33-year-old Rick Nash after giving up a boatload of assets to the Rangers for him at the trade deadline, but it’s pretty clear at this point that Nash is the B’s backup plan.

With that in mind, it sure feels like Nash is headed for free agency on July 1 after underwhelming in his two-month stint (six goals and a minus-11 in 23 regular season and playoff games) with the Bruins following the trade deadline. 

“We continue to talk to Rick, and he’s going to continue to take some time to make the decision that he wants to make,” said Sweeney. “Time is on his side. He gets to make that [decision] into looking at that. Obviously, we close the door [on Nash talks] if we were fortunate enough to sign Ilya, but you’re kind of jockeying simultaneously. He will have options [in free agency] as well.”  

If the Bruins miss out on Kovalchuk and Nash while looking to fill that second line goal-scoring winger, it remains to be seen what exactly they’re going to do to find some of that scoring depth they sorely needed in the postseason.

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Sweeney admits B's not picking in first round will be 'painful'

Sweeney admits B's not picking in first round will be 'painful'

DALLAS – With the first round of the NHL Draft less than 24 hours away, it’s looking like the Bruins aren’t going to find their way back into the first round after dealing the 26th overall pick to the New York Rangers for Rick Nash at the trade deadline. While it was clearly an understandable move at the time for a player in Nash that seemed like he’d be a great fit for the Bruins, it obviously didn’t work out that way with the 33-year-old power forward struggling to consistently finish off plays while dealing with a concussion just before the postseason.

With hindsight being 20/20 and the Bruins without a pick on Friday night at the American Airlines Center, Don Sweeney admitted it will be a “painful” exercise watching the other NHL teams select the top 31 players among the 2018 draft class. 

“This is buyer’s remorse right now in terms of where we sit not having a first-round pick,” admitted Sweeney. “Walking in there tomorrow night [for the first round] is painful. We’ve spent a lot of time with our amateur scouts over the last two days that we’ve been here tightening up the list from top to bottom. 

“You feel badly that these guys have covered a lot of ground [to scout players], and I mentioned that the deadline. We took a swing. I don’t feel badly for taking a swing given where our team was, but it didn’t work out. There are probably seven by my count [that traded first-round picks] and only one team won…and they didn’t give it up. We still think there will be a very good player at No. 57 and we’ve improved our position in the third round.” 

Clearly, it’s a totally different space for Sweeney than his first few years running drafts in Boston where the reloading B’s had a bevy of first and second round picks and stocked up a prospect cupboard with talented young players that are now filtering through their system. 

Barring any last minute trades, the Bruins won’t be picking until the 57th overall choice in the second round and will obviously be much busier on Saturday morning’s second day of the draft in Dallas when they make all their selections.   

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Haggerty: Stage getting set for an active Bruins offseason

Haggerty: Stage getting set for an active Bruins offseason

Given some of the contracts the Bruins have on their books, given their overabundance of young assets and given a couple of the holes that need filling on the NHL roster, it feels inevitable they're going to be active over the next few weeks.

First, there are a couple of key openings they'd like to fill on their NHL roster that they can’t simply plug in with their own young talent in the organization. Boston’s interest in free-agent winger Ilya Kovalchuk would fill one of those vacancies as a second line sniper-type that the Bruins could plug in with David Krejci and theoretically provide more balanced scoring up front than what the B's featured in their second-round defeat against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Clearly, the Bruins aren’t the only team interested in Kovalchuk, 35, who has suitors on the West Coast (the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks) among others when he becomes available to sign on July 1. Given his age and that he's been away from the NHL playing in Russia the past five years, Kovalchuk isn’t going to command much more than a one-to-two-year deal at $5 million to $6 million per season. That’s a doable price tag for an aging game-breaker who should score 25 goals and 60 points in his sleep.

Certainly, Kovalchuk seems a better bet than Rick Nash, 33, who disappointed after arriving at the trade deadline while also coping with a concussion that really messed up his time with the Black and Gold. It could come down to an either/or for the Bruins between giving Kovalchuk or Nash a similar contract to be the veteran, big-bodied scorer on the second line. That’s a must given the small stature, inexperience and highly skilled nature of the young players the B's overwhelmingly feature on their wing right now.

A little higher on the degree of difficulty this offseason is the longstanding search for a front-line, left-shot defenseman who could fit into Boston’s top four. With Zdeno Chara turning 42 next season and Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk both undersized, puck-moving types, there’s a clear need for a bigger, stronger and younger do-everything D-man.

The Bruins have a longstanding interest in Carolina defenseman Noah Hanifin that goes back to their efforts to trade up for him in the first round of the 2015 draft. The Hurricanes are a team that appears likely to trade off some of their players amid a regime change. Hanifin won’t come cheap as the Canes will undoubtedly ask for left winger Jake DeBrusk in a hefty package, just as the Rangers similarly did in the Ryan McDonagh discussions last spring. Perhaps the two sides can settle on a package built around Danton Heinen or Anders Bjork instead, or perhaps the Bruins will have to look elsewhere, whether that means Oskar Klefbom or seeing what Jakub Zboril/Urho Vaakanainen/Jeremy Lauzon could bring to the table.

As it stands, the Bruins will have somewhere between $10.4 million to $14.4 million in cap space after signing Grzelcyk to a two-year, $2.8 million extension, depending on where the ceiling for 2018-19 ends up between the projected $78-82 million. They have 10 forwards, seven defensemen and one goaltender under contract and still need to make decisions on their third-line center and their backup goaltender, along with a second-line sniper. So, it would be smart cap management by the Bruins to move some salary in order to give themselves some breathing room ahead of July 1. That’s why the names David Krejci ($7.25 million cap hit) and David Backes ($6 million) have been whispered around the periphery of league-wide trade discussions.  

TSN Insider Darren Dreger told Buffalo WGR Sports Radio 550 last Friday that the Bruins are fielding calls about a potential Krejci trade. Dreger also added that the Bruins are "a little reluctant to” move their playmaking 32-year-old Czech center, but instead "would like" to deal away the 34-year-old Backes.    

What does it all sound like to this humble hockey writer?

It sounds like wishful thinking from a Bruins general manager who would love to move either of the two worst contracts - paying aging players with no-movement clauses - on their books. Of course, the Bruins would like to move Backes, who had a bad contract from the minute they signed him to a five-year deal. Backes has endured all kinds of injury and health issues the past couple of seasons, including a nasty concussion that ended his postseason. He has settled into a third-line role after never really building any offensive chemistry with Krejci.

Clearly, Backes is making too much money for a third-liner who has averaged 15 goals and 36 points in his first two seasons in Boston. It also wouldn’t be shocking if the hard-working, no-nonsense Backes would be amenable to moving somewhere where he might fit into a more prominent top-six role. Still, nobody is going to take on Backes unless A) the Bruins were willing to eat a great deal of his remaining $18 million or B) they were willing to take on a similarly unfavorable contract coming from another team.

All of this doesn’t even mention the fact Backes is one of the few Bruins forwards with size, strength, snarl and a willingness to go to the front of the net and jettisoning him would just be creating another hole to be filled on their roster.

“Hopefully he is going to be healthy. He went through... even he described it as a pretty difficult year," GM Don Sweeney said back in May at his end-of-season press conference. "I don’t know if a lot of players are going to play through some of the things David went through this year. It speaks to his character. It’s a big reason why we went out and got him, and to what he was going to offload at times from other players on our hockey club that we all speak about from a core standpoint, and the impact they make from a leadership standpoint. It’s a lot to lump on players individually to carry that burden, and I think David’s done a really good job of coming in and helping in that regard and spreading it around. From a pure production standpoint, a little bit is determined where he plays in the lineup.

“Nothing against Bruce, but he’s putting together the lineup and did a really good job this year. We played him on the power play. His offense comes in spurts probably more so than what he used to, from a volume standpoint. He’s also playing with younger players at times that’s he’s helping on and off the ice. I think we looked at David Backes as providing balance in our locker room, on the ice, not just from a pure production standpoint. Do I hope he becomes a 20 [goals] 50 [points] guy again? Yeah, I absolutely do. I don’t know, that’s up to him. He hasn’t the last two years, but at times, if he was healthy, he was trending in that way. But a little bit depends on the usage piece.”

Perhaps there is less reluctance to deal Krejci from a Bruins perspective, but it’s once again an aging player experiencing both more injuries and less production at this point in a very solid career. If the Bruins found a team willing to take either Krejci or Backes in a reasonable deal, and either was willing to waive their no-trade protection, then Boston would and should pull the trigger immediately, if not sooner.

Instead, this feels more like Boston trying to float a couple of names they’d like to trade before going through the pain of trading a younger, more valuable asset (Krug, perhaps?) to clear the cap space they’ll need to make all their desired offseason moves. All the pieces are in place for Sweeney and the Bruins to make a few splash-worthy moves this season, but let’s also hope B’s management doesn’t shake, rattle and roll too much of a roster that piled up 112 points last season while looking like they were onto something most of the year.  


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