January 28th, 2010 by

Is Kovalchuk really the answer?

In the 2006-07 NHL season, the Atlanta Thrashers were destined for its first playoff appearance in franchise history. With centerpieces Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa accounting for 35 percent of the team’s total goals and nearly 30 percent of its total points, general manager Don Waddell did a bit of wheeling-and-dealing to make the postseason push.

Veteran net-minder Johan Hedberg was acquired via free-agency to back-up Finland native, Kari Lehtonen; while posting a nice 9-4-2 record. Journeyman Glen Metropolit was also picked up from free-agency, after spending the previous three seasons playing overseas.

Perhaps the biggest move Waddell made was the trade for Massachusetts’ very own, Keith Tkachuk, from the St. Louis Blues. Atlanta sent Metropolit, a first- and third-round pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, and a second-round pick for 2008 to St. Louis for the power forward Tkachuk.

The result for the King’s Ransom? A 12-5-1 record since the acquisition of Tkachuk for the first seed in the Southeast Division [97 points]; the franchise’s first and only playoff appearance; and an early trip to the golf course after being swept in four-straight games by the New York Rangers in round one.

And as for the centerpiece Kovalchuk and Hossa? In four postseason games, the duo combined for 1-2-3 and 25 penalty minutes.

The point of all this in a roundabout way: Although he has been my favorite player since the great Pavel Bure retired; Ilya Kovalchuk is not the answer for the Boston Bruins. Not this year. The trade rumors for this guy is one year too late, as the Bruins’ best chance for a Stanley Cup was last year. Even with the Russian sniper on the Bruins roster, I still don’t believe they are good enough to take out teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, or Washington Capitals in a seven-game series.

The soon-to-be unrestricted free-agent [UFA] Kovalchuk scores a lot of goals. A LOT of goals. He’s been averaging nearly 43 per season since his rookie year in 2001-02. And with 30 goals through 52 games this season for Atlanta, the 26-year-old sniper is on pace to push for another 50 goal season. With an added +/- 20 goals in the Bruins lineup for the rest of the season, that type of offensive presence would definitely help – but is it enough?

Although the Bruins are dead-last in the NHL in goals-scored, Boston’s goaltending is ranked sixth in the league with a 2.45 goals-against average. However, the duo of Tuukka Rask and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas have now allowed 19 goals-against in their last five games [3.80 GAA] and 36 in their last 11 contests. For a player who was once known as a one-dimensional player, Kovalchuk has improved his two-way play — but not that much to bode as a defensive presence on ice.

Despite having a career-best plus-3 thus far this season, Kovalchuk posts a career minus-82 in the plus/minus department, and is a minus-1 in his one-and-only playoff appearance [1-1-2, minus-1, 12 shots on goal, and 19 PIM in four playoff games].

For a player who was the focal point for so many years, could Kovalchuk adjust to Julien’s system in Boston? After all, Atlanta built that entire team, and franchise, around their franchise player [see: Todd White, Maxim Afinogenov, Pavel Kubina, Nik Antropov, etc.]. At the end of it all, Waddell opted to part ways with Dany Heatley [2005], Marc Savard [2006], and Hossa [2008] while keeping No. 17.

And the price tag to pry the perennial All Star away from Atlanta? Darren Dreger, of TSN.ca, spoke with one team who had discussions with Waddell about trading for Kovalchuk. Dreger said on NHL on the Fly.

“Two young prospect-type players, two young roster players, and a draft-pick combination…four-to-five legitimate assets.”

A reasonable sum for Boston, considering their plethora of draft picks for the upcoming drafts and handful of good prospects in the minors? Maybe. However, when those roster players’ names include [pick any two] Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Tuukka Rask, the deal doesn’t sound very popular or promising to Bruins fans. At least it shouldn’t.


For a low-risk, high-reward type of player, the Bruins would be better off for the “cheaper” bet in Carolina. Hurricanes’ left wing Ray Whitney [16-24-40] is an unrestricted free-agent at the end of this season, and could be moved by the 29th place ‘Canes come Mar. 3. A forward with some scoring and veteran presence, the 37-year-old could definitely help the Bruins’ ailing offense for a fraction of the price.

The Bruins blue-line could certainly use some more depth than just the frequent call-ups from their AHL affiliate, Providence Bruins. Sheldon Souray and Jordan Leopold are two players who come to mind when I think of adding good, solid defensive help.

The Pittsburgh Penguins learned from their trade deadline mistakes after reeling-in their big fish, Hossa, in 2008. The Pens lost in the Stanley Cup finials in seven games to the Detroit Red Wings — then watched the UFA Hossa pack his bags only to sign with the same team that beat them for the Cup, just a couple of weeks prior.

It was the two smaller moves in which helped the Penguins win it all last season. On Feb. 26, 2009, Pittsburgh’s general manager Ray Shero traded defenseman Ryan Whitney to Anaheim for forward Chris Kunitz, and the signing rights to Ryan Tangardi. Shero, at the trade deadline, then acquired veteran forward Bill Guerin from the New York Islanders for a conditional pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft on Mar. 4, 2009.

Guerin and Kunitz combined for 12-18-30 and a plus-6, as the Penguins landed the fourth seed in the East with 99 points. The duo then recorded 8-21-29 combined totals in all 24 playoff games, to help lift the Pens to the promise land.

If Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins pull the trigger on Kovalchuk for the King’s ransom and don’t make it to the Stanley Cup Finals — or don’t win it all — the outcome would be a complete failure.

Further, if the aforementioned scenario were the same and Kovalchuk walks right to the KHL in June — which is a likely scenario, playing for over $10MM tax-free in his home country — then the rental experiment would be a disastrous nightmare. At the expense of a valuable draft pick, roster players, and a prospect or two for the big fish, only to hit the links instead of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup would be an absolute blunder.

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5 READERS COMMENTED

  1. January 28, 2010
    I think they won’t, and shouldn’t get Ilya now, but should try to get him in the off season.
    • January 28, 2010
      He’s looking for the max: 20% of the team’s salary-cap, aka: $11MM per season. No chance PC makes an offer like that. My guess is that Kovie’s off to Russia’s KHL, tax-free, next season.
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