—The Boston Bruins are in a good spot. If you’ve been watching them, you don’t need me to tell you that. But off the ice, there are other indications that the organization is currently a winning one.
That’s because the B’s have been on the list of the two of the biggest free agents in the league this offseason. First, it was Ilya Kovalchuk, who ended up signing a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Kings at $6.25 million per year. Before he signed though, Kovalchuk showed interest in Vegas, San Jose, and Boston. But missing out on the 35-year-old Kovalchuk as he returns to the NHL after playing the last few seasons in the KHL isn’t the type of loss that will affect the direction of the franchise. Kovalchuk hasn’t played in the NHL since the 2012-13 season with the New jersey Devils. Sure, he was tearing it up in Russia, but the NHL is obviously a different game.
The other good news is that the Bruins have also drawn the attention of free agent John Tavares, who’s spent all nine seasons of his NHL career thus far with the New York Islanders. The Islanders are still a possibility for Tavares, but it’s good to know that he also wants to talk to the Bruins, as well as several other teams. If you lined them up against a wall and had to pick one over the other, you’d take Tavares over Kovalchuk. That’s more of a praise for Tavares than it is a knock on Kovalchuk. And as I write this, Tavares has still not made his decision.
Even if the B’s miss out on Tavares, at least they know that they’re now a potential destination for big-name players who want to win. That’s exactly what the message would be if Tavares actually chose to sign with the Bruins. He’d be letting the hockey world know that the B’s are one of the favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup next season and seasons beyond. Because one advantage that the Islanders have over the Bruins is that they can offer Tavares an eight-year deal, while every other team in the league can only offer him a seven-year contract.
At 27 years old — he turns 28 in September — nobody can blame Tavares for looking at all his options before committing to the Islanders for eight more seasons. But at the same time, given what we already know about the Bruins’ current roster, if Tavares chooses seven years in Boston, nobody will blame him either.
—It’s funny when the same people who tell us to enjoy the Tavares-to-Boston rumors then tell us that Kawhi Leonard in a Celtics uniform is a pipe dream. I’ve been on the record the last few weeks saying that, if I’m Danny Ainge, I’m at least kicking the tires on finding a way to trade for Leonard. When Leonard’s name came up towards the end of the season, I initially was out on him, but that was mainly because people were saying that the Celtics would have to trade Jayson Tatum to San Antonio in order to make it happen. And I’ll go on the record once again to tell you that I’m out on any trade that includes Tatum. Not happening. He’s untouchable. Tatum isn’t going anywhere. And in order to land Leonard, he might not have to.
Reports say that the Spurs are not going to trade Leonard to a Western Conference team, which makes sense in a way. But it also takes some leverage away from the Spurs. And the Spurs had already lost leverage when Leonard let the whole world know that he didn’t want to play in San Antonio anymore.
The one thing that the Spurs have going for them is that, in the NBA, you need to match salaries to make a trade. Leonard has one year left on his deal that’s worth $20 million, with a $21 million player option for the following year. So San Antonio needs to get something for him. If you’re the Celtics, it all comes down to Kyrie Irving. What is Irving saying behind the scenes? Does he really not want to have any conversation at all about re-signing in Boston next summer? Is Irving showing any signs that he actually wants to be a Celtic for the rest of his career?
Ainge traded for Irving. Irving didn’t necessarily choose the Celtics. So the idea that Irving could opt out and leave Boston next summer to go to a destination of his choice isn’t all that crazy. And if Ainge thinks that’s a strong possibility, shouldn’t he be trying to move Irving now? The top priority should be keeping Irving long-term. But if he has other plans, then it needs to be addressed that he and Leonard have the same exact contract, and that a one-for-one swap would work.
Just something to keep in mind.