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Bruins Find Their Biggest Competitor In Ilya Kovalchuk Sweepstakes

By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com

The Boston Bruins have a ton of interest in free agent Ilya Kovalchuk, and the feeling seems largely mutual.

In Boston, Kovalchuk can fit almost anywhere on their top two lines and succeed. His desired contract also seems to align with what the Black and Gold would like to have on the books in an attempt to keep their current Cup window open while not robbing themselves of future success. And most of all, Kovalchuk could seemingly play with a coach whose style suits his game.

But the Bruins are not alone in their pursuit of the 35-year-old Kovalchuk. In fact, it seems as if Boston's top competition in terms of signing the 417-goal scorer made it official on Tuesday. Though the day's start led you to think just the opposite.

When the San Jose Sharks started the day by acquiring Mike Hoffman from the Ottawa Senators, it appeared that Sharks general manager Doug Wilson was not going to sit around and take the risk that came with waiting for Kovalchuk to decide.

Hoffman, who simply had to be traded out of Ottawa due to a disgusting off-ice cyber-bullying saga between his fiancee and the wife of team captain Erik Karlsson, is a left winger under contract for just north of $5.1 million per year for the next two seasons. With 104 goals and 224 points over the last four seasons, Hoffman wasn't a bad backup plan, especially when the Sharks were able to shed the remaining two years of Mikael Boedker's $4 million per year salary in the process. But considering the fact that they had just visited with Kovy, this sudden flip towards another talent seemed odd.

Then came Hoffman's flip to the Florida Panthers for three draft choices.

In other words, the Sharks found a way to gain an additional $4 million in cap space without taking anything back. That leaves the Sharks with over $11.5 million in projected cap space this summer, and with the cap expected to raise by a few million, too.(The Bruins, for what it's worth, are projected to begin the offseason with $7.4 million in available space before the cap rises.)

And with Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney, and Dylan DeMelo as the lone RFAs on the San Jose roster, the Sharks have options. Factor that in with pending free agent Joe Thornton's willingness to take whatever contract cut necessary to fit other players into the Shark mix, and Wilson's front office has more than enough flexibility to pull off almost anything in pursuit of a Cup.

Now, the thought is that the Sharks are setting up for a home run move of sorts, with both Kovalchuk and Islander captain,  pending unrestricted free agent, and max contract candidate John Tavares on their radar.

In fact, it's believed that this may be their current plan, especially with significant money shed off their 2018-19 books.

It's not a shock, as the Sharks have been subtly linked to Tavares since the start of the offseason, and it's believed that they will be granted the chance to make their pitch to the superstar center should he entertain offers before the start of free agency. (Playing in the backyard of the Golden State Warriors can do wonders for your organizational confidence, I suppose.)

If they were to succeed in signing Tavares, it would be tough for the B's -- or any team, for that matter -- to match the promise that Kovalchuk can envision playing with Tavares, Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Evander Kane, and Brent Burns.

That's when things can get dicey by way of a bidding war that will already feature more than just the B's and Sharks.

Kovalchuk, who recorded 120 goals and 285 points in 262 games with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL during his five-year 'retirement' from the National Hockey League, is expected to make his decision sometime within the next week or so.

Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.