When news broke earlier this month that the Canadiens were taking a flyer on veteran winger Ilya Kovalchuk — the reaction around the league was quite tepid.
After all, the former star’s stock arguably couldn’t have been any lower at the time — given that his former club in the Kings opted to bench him for over a month before finally terminating the three-year, $18.75 million contract he signed back in July 2018.
Now an unrestricted free agent, Kovalchuk’s pursuit of a Cup contender fell short when he ultimately inked a two-way contract for the league minimum salary of $700,000 with the Habs.
On paper, it made plenty of sense for a Montreal team crippled by injuries and bottoming out in the Atlantic Division to see what Kovalchuk had left in the tank — especially with top-six minutes and power-play reps all but guaranteed.
Expectations might have been low for Kovalchuk up in Montreal, but the reaction in Boston was a bit more divisive. Given the Bruins’ continued search for a top-six winger, many bemoaned Boston for not rolling the dice on Kovalchuk — given the low risk involved with that one-year deal.
Others, including yours truly, shrugged their shoulders when Kovalchuk first took to the ice with the Tricolore earlier this month.
Sure, perhaps Kovalchuk still had something left in terms of serving as a power-play specialist. But I was rather skeptical about how much Kovalchuk could really impact a club in the O-zone, especially during 5v5 play.
After all, for a player marketed as an effective, high-volume shooter, Kovalchuk’s shot distances earlier this season with Los Angeles averaged out to 34.88 feet — well below the league average — and his individual 5v5 shots per 60 minutes rate of 6.1 would rank 11th on this current Bruins roster.
Well, it might be time for me to eat crow.