BOSTON – What is with all the handwringing over Ilya Kovachuk?
Why wouldn’t the Bruins want to see what a player with championship pedigree at a bargain basement price can do for them?
There are many other teams in the NHL in much worse shape than the Bruins.
They are the second-best team in the Eastern Conference standings. They have lots of depth up the middle at the center position and they have the hottest sniper in the game in David Pastrnak.
They have a playoff-tested goalie in Tuukka Rask, who’s been the starting goalie on a pair of Bruins teams that have come thisclose to winning a Stanley Cup. His backup, Jaroslav Halak is the ideal No. 2 netminder, quietly doing a very solid job and – as Bruce Cassidy has said on several occasions – always giving the Bruins someone they never have to worry about when giving Rask the night or several nights off.
The Bruins have a remarkably deep, versatile and young corps of defensemen. The coaching staff, led by Cassidy, is top rank.
But the Stanley Cup is not awarded to the most talented. It’s awarded to the most determined team that has the most answers and options come May and June. The Bruins ran out of options and answers in Game 7 against St. Louis. To finish the job this time, they need more scoring options to answer the teams who successfully shut down the Bruins top lines the way the Blues did in Games 2, 5 and 7 on Garden ice.
That’s why taking a chance on Ilya Kovalchuk makes sense. He is a 36-year-old veteran wing who could step in, ala Jarome Iginla or Mark Recchi and give the Bruins a burst. He won’t solve all of the Bruins issues with depth scoring but he certainly could be a start.
“He was great, he was perfect, he was a real pro,” Kings general manager Rob Blake said Tuesday before his Kings came from behind to beat the Bruins, 4-3 in overtime at TD Garden. “He showed up every day and did his job, he was very good about it.”
What the 6-foot-3, 222-pound left wing wasn’t very good at this season was scoring, netting just three goals and six assists in 17 games before being benched. The star left wing took time off at the age of 29 after the 2012-13 season and winning a KHL title in Russia. He came back to the NHL after signing with the Kings before the 2018-19 season. But he scored just 19 goals and 18 assists in 81 games in a season-plus back in the NHL. The detractors point to the fact that he essentially did nothing in his time with the Kings. He’s out of gas. Give younger players the chance to prove something.
This isn’t about bringing in star power, it’s about bringing in another scoring option on a team that could desperately use it, especially on the power play. The shot is still there but he is someone who clearly could use a great supporting cast that the Bruins can provide.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) December 18, 2019
Kings coach Todd McLellan, who worked with Kovalchuk on the ice and in the room on a daily basis, was even more glowing in his assessment of Kovy.
“Anybody that is going to try to poke holes in Kovy’s character is completely wrong,” McLellan said. “He was outstanding, I enjoyed my time with him and I think his teammates did too. When he was dealt this situation, he handled it with the utmost professionalism, he worked, he was excited to see his teammates win. I don’t have a single negative thing to say about him and if he resurfaces in the league, if he can get his game going that’s great, but I do know that somebody would get a real good teammate.”
This is not the time for young players like 20-year-old stud prospect Jack Studnicka. It’s time for an established veteran who could step in and provide some timely scoring.
Ironically, the Bruins couldn’t put away Kovalchuk’s former team Tuesday night. Jake DeBrusk had a chance in the third period then Anders Bjork and Patrice Bergeron had their chances in the overtime. Instead of holding onto a one-goal third period lead for a 3-2 win, the Bruins settled for 4-3 overtime loss, their sixth loss in seven games.
“Listen, there’s eighty-two of these, I thought we certainly played well enough to win,” Bruce Cassidy said. “Not very happy getting only one point tonight, some nights you’re satisfied. In terms of how we played the game, the process part of it, there was better things than, say, two weeks ago.”
The Bruins still have a need for wing scoring depth. That need isn’t going away. Kovalchuk won’t cost a prospect. Kovalchuk is now free to sign with any NHL team for the league veteran minimum of $700,000. The Bruins should make their pitch, work the cap logistics out and take him for a spin. The Bruins are not re-building like the Kings.
They need that one piece that will give them an added scoring boost at a pivotal time, like say Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.