After their stellar regular season, the Boston Bruins‘ Stanley Cup run was cut short in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning, a relentless offensive team with all sorts of weapons. To adapt, you can expect the Bruins to be active this summer.
One of the first steps is meeting with pending UFA Ilya Kovalchuk.
“We’re going to just talk to his camp,” general manager Don Sweeney told NHL.com. “He’s got things that he’s looking for and we’ll see where it goes.”
Kovalchuk will return to the NHL after spending the past five seasons in the KHL and winning that league’s scoring title with 31 goals and 63 points in 53 games this season. The first overall pick in 2001 has 417 goals in 816 career NHL games, and Sweeney sees him fitting into one of the top two lines.
The Bruins averaged 3.26 goals per game in 2017-18, the sixth-best mark in the NHL and they had the fourth-best power play that converted on 23.5 per cent of its chances.
Some might worry about how a player may struggle to transition back from KHL play to the NHL, but Sweeney wasn’t concerned for a player who has the natural ability of Kovalchuk.
“I don’t think it’s a problem integrating into the NHL,” Sweeney said. “How he fits onto your team, the dynamic there, where he plays, those are things that obviously are unknowns. You can project and predict, but until the coach gets him on the ice and puts him in places, you just never know. But as far as the NHL, no concern there.”
Boston has roughly $7.9 million in cap space, but that will rise between $3 and $7 million when the league announces the new ceiling. The team still hopes to be able to retain backup Anton Khudobin, who is also a UFA, and possibly centre Riley Nash.
But if they bring in Kovalchuk, it makes it difficult to also sign Rick Nash, another pending UFA who the team acquired from the New York Rangers at the trade deadline.
“Financially, I just don’t think it’s doable unless you’re really doing something to change things around to open things up,” Sweeney said of signing both wingers. “It’s more of the cap implications of exploring both those players. Any team would say, ‘Well, boy we’re a better team.’ That’s just not realistic. I’ve been honest about that.
“But we’ve had conversations with Rick’s camp as well,” Sweeney continued. “You just stay in communication. I think Rick enjoyed his time here. We enjoyed having him. The injury was a factor at times, but he represents a lot of stuff that we needed. So we’ve got to continue to explore those things, and see how the jigsaw puzzle fits.”
There is no shortage of interest in Kovalchuk. Just last weekend he reportedly made a trip to California where he had meetings with the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, while Florida, Detroit, St. Louis and Dallas have also been linked to the Russian.