Charlie Coyle had a couple of surgeries on his left knee this summer and now he’s rehabilitating with hopes of being ready for the Bruins’ opener next month.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, the veteran center didn’t have a procedure to turn him into David Krejci.
Of course, a healthier Coyle could go a long way toward making sure the Bruins don’t suffer a major drop-off while Krejci’s skating and enjoying home cooking over in the Czech Republic. Already coach Bruce Cassidy said last month he expects Coyle will be the first player to take a shot at filling the No. 2 spot behind Patrice Bergeron.
While speaking at the Bruins’ annual golf tournament Wednesday, Coyle didn’t make any guarantees about grabbing that job and putting up a 30-goal, 70-point season. Instead, he explained how he’s looking forward to the competition.
“You always want to prove yourself, make yourself a better player for your team,” said Coyle, 29. “There’s a number of guys who will be fighting for that spot which will make our team better.”
“I’m going to do my part and work as I can to be the best player I can for this team,” he continued, “and if it’s in that position I’m going to take full advantage of it.”
There wasn’t much talk about Coyle’s nightmare season in 2020-21, but it’s hard to ignore his six-goal output and his 16 points in 51 games. He scored at just about half the rate he did during his 16-goal, 37-point season leading up to the coronavirus shutdown. Coyle also didn’t do much to prevent the Bruins’ second-round playoff exit against the New York Islanders, scoring just two goals among his three points in 11 games.
If the knee was all that was holding him back, the Bruins should be in a prime position. Coyle actually said it had been bothering him for several seasons, got worse last year and finally needed to be fixed. But Coyle was brought to Boston to be a third-line center, a job he filled sufficiently during the Bruins’ runs to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019 and Presidents’ Trophy in 2019-20. Secondary scoring is one thing, but turning the Bruins’ top six into a dual-line threat alongside Taylor Hall (and probably Craig Smith) is a whole other thing.
Wrestling: AEW: Three Dream Matches for Bryan Danielson
Coyle has struggled to match the 56 points he had with Minnesota in 2016-17. Ironically, Coyle’s troubles are similar to what was probably the one criticism that legitimately and consistently could be made of Krejci — a reluctance to shoot. Now with Hall and Smith on his wings, shooting might be a secondary option most of the time, but Coyle’s going to have to keep defenses honest to have success. He’s also going to have to be precise with his passes and keep up with the likes of Hall and Smith — no small task.
On the plus side, Coyle might have to worry less about hard matchups tat if general manager Don Sweeney’s offseason signings — depth pieces Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, and Tomas Nosek up front — allow Cassidy to lean on his bottom six to take the bulk of that responsibility. In recent years, Cassidy was able to do the same with Krejci’s line.
There are other directions for Cassidy to look for someone to fill the middle of the second line. Foligno and Haula could be veteran placeholders should Coyle not thrive in the No. 2 hole.
Emerging rookie Jack Studnicka could make this whole endeavor moot by taking a huge stride and reaching his potential at 22, allowing Coyle to settle back in on the third line. The track record of Bruins prospects solving the team’s problems hasn’t been great in recent seasons.
Leaving the No. 2 center slot to a competition, or a committee (as Sweeney has called it), is one of the biggest risks the general manager has taken during his reign possibly since he decided Coyle was worth trading for at the 2019 deadline (or maybe since signing Coyle to a six-year, $31.5 million extension).
Sweeney and the Bruins have a lot riding on Coyle and his repaired knee doing things that were once accomplished by one of the premier centers in the franchise’s history. Surgery might not have turned Coyle into Krejci, but Boston has to hope he’ll become something close.