Last February, the Bruins sent Ryan Spooner and a first-round pick to the Rangers for 35-year old forward Rick Nash. They were gearing up for a playoff run that nobody expected to happen in the first place, and Nash was the final piece to help them topple the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals.
Four months later, the Lightning knocked off the Bruins in a five-game beatdown that made me wonder how the the Bruins got there at all. Nash, alongside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, scored just three times in twelve playoff games. Now he owns an expiring contract and might have already played his last game in a Bruins’ uniform after just half a season.
Nash was a disappointing deadline move, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. From a team that’s signed Jarome Iginla, Brian Gionta, and Jaromir Jagr, Nash fits the mold perfectly – a veteran on his last legs who’s looking for one last chance at the Cup before he starts to think about hanging up his skates for good. Plenty of fans praise this strategy for getting cheap production out of short-term deals – especially when the Patriots do it. But Nash was underwhelming for the Bruins, especially in the playoffs – and it raises questions about whether these types of moves are ever effective.
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The Bruins love veterans like Nash and Gionta over younger players like Ryan Donato in big situations, even when the production isn’t there. Donato, a 22-year-old Harvard rookie, didn’t even see minutes until his team was on the cusp of elimination against the Lightning. Nash, on the other hand, posted a playoff stat line (5 points, 3 goals) that reflects exactly what he is – a forward who can hardly knock guys around like he used to. It’s almost like Claude Julien is still benching Tyler Seguin all over again (remember the good old days?). Meanwhile, the Bruins still haven’t realized that none of their savvy moves for wrecked old wingers have panned out, and that’s why I’m deathly scared of Ilya Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk hasn’t played in the NHL for over five years since he moved to the KHL in Russia. He’s 35 years old and supposedly in pursuit of one last try for a Cup before he retires, making him a classic free-agent target for Boston. The Bruins would likely pair him with David Krejci and slot him into the hole Rick Nash will leave on the second line.
It terrifies me that the Bruins will sign Kovalchuk and give him minutes over a horde of young, talented forwards. They’re already blessed with a top-six finesse center in Ryan Donato and an entire farm system breeding offensive threats like Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk. Imagine the audacity to take a flyer on a 35-year-old Russian who hasn’t played an NHL game in five years with those guys healthy. Any combination of Donato, Heinen, DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, and Riley Nash would thrive on second-line winger duty instead of Kovalchuk. If nothing else, the Bruins need to start moving on from Krejci himself, not surround him with even older guys.
Kovalchuk would also cost about seven million, which could be more than half of the Bruins’ available cap space for this offseason. Why not spend that seven million on a Mike Green type defender to begin a transition away from Chara? Or, if they wanted to maximize next year’s window of Chara on the edge and Bergeron in his prime, they’d splurge on Evander Kane or John Carlson. I doubt anything could top the idiocy of signing Kovalchuk, but I also wouldn’t put it past the Bruins to claim they were “playing it safe” with a one-year deal and calling it a successful offseason.
They have young talent, they have one of the best first lines in hockey, and without Rick Nash, the Bruins don’t have any washed-up veteran forwards. Let’s keep it that way.
Image credit to USA Today