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Bruins may look to make a splash by signing Kovalchuk

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Clearly, the Bruins fell short in the offensive depth department during this spring’s postseason run. Now it seems like they’re making significant plans to address that shortcoming. 

According to a report from TSN’s Darren Dreger, the B’s are one of the interested suitors for the services of free agent winger Ilya Kovalchuk, who plans to jump back into the NHL next season after spending the last handful of years in his native Russia playing for the KHL. Boston is one of what’s believed to be close to a dozen teams vying for the 35-year-old Russian scorer, who can’t sign with an NHL team until the July 1 opening of free agency. 

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“I’m going to give you a list of teams that I believe are interested in Ilya Kovalchuk,” said Dreger on Tuesday during a radio hit with TSN 690 in Montreal. “And I’m going to qualify that level of interest. Detroit, as I tweeted earlier today, definitely made a push. The St. Louis Blues have interest, Anaheim, Dallas, the New York Islanders. I’d put that group as potential dark horse teams.

“And then beyond that, probably more solid contenders include the likes of San Jose and Los Angeles, and I’d put the Boston Bruins in that group and maybe the New York Rangers as well. So there are a total of nine teams. I did not mention Toronto or Montreal and that’s just simply because either the team hasn’t engaged or the player doesn’t see those teams as the right fit.”

Kovalchuk, who scored 31 goals and 63 points in 53 games for KHL St. Petersburg last year, last played in the NHL in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season when he scored 11 goals and 31 points in 37 games for a New Jersey Devils team that didn’t qualify for the playoffs. In his last full NHL season, 2011-12, he posted 37 goals and 83 points in 77 games in leading New Jersey’s surprise run to the Stanley Cup Finals, where the Devils lost to the Kings.

No one’s expecting Kovalchuk to play at the level he was at six years ago in New Jersey, but the 6-foot-3, 230-pound left winger would be exactly the kind of big-gun scorer the Bruins are seeking to boost their second line. He’s a plus-sized player who can work around the net, he’s an excellent skater, and his shot and finishing instincts are game-changers both on the power play and during even strength. Kovalchuk might be the best scoring winger available on July 1, so he’s certainly worth pursuing given that he would cost the Bruins just money to bring him in. 

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In a perfect world they’d attempt to trade for a younger player to pair with David Krejci, but a short-term, bigger-money deal with Kovalchuk would be less of a gamble with no player assets sacrificed. It would also be a better free-agent investment than throwing money at 33-year-old Rick Nash, who was something of a disappointment as their big trade-deadline acquisition. A top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, paired with a second line of Kovalchuk, Krejci and a younger winger like Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk or Ryan Donato, would be a formidable top-6 for next season and give the Bruins a much more balanced offensive attack.

It all comes down to cost, however, and the Bruins have nearly $9 million in cap space with Riley Nash, Anton Khudobin, Tim Schaller, Sean Kuraly and Matt Grzelcyk as the most likely players to be re-signed by the Bruins this summer. 

On the last deal he signed with New Jersey, Kovalchuk had a cap hit of $6.67 million per season on a long-term dea. One would expect he’d be looking for something in that neighborhood per season upon his return to North America. It’s doable for the Bruins and it sounds like the kind of big splash they’re looking to make in order to upgrade their offense.

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