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What should the Bruins do with Charlie Coyle?

There are questions about where to play him. But there’s a larger question looming as well.

2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Seven Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Heading into the 2019-2020 season, Charlie Coyle is one of the more interesting guys on the Bruins’ roster. The 27-year-old forward will be entering his first full season with his hometown team, and will be coming off of a strong playoff performance.

One of the things that makes him interesting is the decision on where he’ll play. The easy answer is back at 3C, with some revolving door of wings until a couple of guys stick. The other answer is 2RW, giving David Krejci a big-bodied wing and freeing up that 3C spot for a guy like Jack Studnicka or Trent Frederic.

It’s a fun guessing game — but there’s a larger Charlie Coyle question looming: will he even be here at the end of the season?

It seems like a silly question after his strong finish to the season, but it’s a question worth asking. Coyle will be an unrestricted free agent after this season ends, and will likely be looking for the last big contract of his NHL career. (No, he’s not that old, but players don’t tend to sign massive long-term deals after the age of 30.)

The Bruins are currently in what we could kindly call a less-than-ideal salary cap situation, so adding any big-money deals seems unlikely. That salary cap crunch is the main reason Marcus Johansson, who was a great fit during his brief stint with the Bruins, is going to be plying his trade in Buffalo this season.

In heading to Buffalo, Johansson received a 2-year deal that carries a cap hit of $4.5 million. Coyle’s current deal has a $3.2 million cap hit.

Johansson’s career PPG is 0.57, Coyle’s is 0.50. Coyle’s almost two years younger than Johansson, and has the SIZE™ that many NHL GMs still covet (along with GRIT and the beloved Heavy Game™).

This isn’t mean to be a straight-up comparison between the two guys; rather it’s a way to illustrate that Coyle is almost certainly due for a raise of $1 million or more per season.

Coyle had 34 points in the regular season last year. For the sake of making an easy comparison, we’ll leave out the playoffs and look at the cap hit of guys in that range, per CapFriendly:

  • Nick Foligno: $5.5 million
  • Nick Bonino: $4.1 million
  • Frans Nielsen: $5.25 million
  • Vincent Trocheck: $4.75 million
  • Michael Frolik: $4.3 million
  • Tyler Toffoli: $4.6 million
  • Ondrej Palat: $5.3 million

That’s just a random sampling of guys within a point or two of Coyle’s 34. None of those guys had a playoffs close to as good as Coyle’s either.

So...yeah. You’re probably not re-signing Coyle for less than $5 million per season. While the true extent of the Bruins’ cap situation won’t be known until Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy are back on the books, there’s not a ton of relief in sight.

After this season, both Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk will need new contracts. Torey Krug will need a new deal, as will Kevan Miller and Zdeno Chara (those two are more speculative). The B’s will also need a back-up goalie.

There’s not a lot of other money coming off the books: David Backes’ deal isn’t up until after next season; the only other guys coming off after this season are Joakim Nordstrom, Chris Wagner, and Brett Ritchie, who aren’t exactly making huge money.

Of course, it’s worth noting that the Bruins may elect to find a way to keep Coyle. He was a great fit after arriving here, and gave the Bruins their first effective 3rd line in what seemed like a decade. That kind of stability certainly adds value.

But if keeping Coyle looks unlikely, should the Bruins explore moving him? Obviously a lot of it will depend on how the season goes, as if the B’s completely fall apart, the decision becomes easier.

When Coyle was acquired, his extra year under contract was a selling point. It gave the Bruins a controlled asset that they could potentially flip in a future deal while also giving them plenty of time to evaluate whether or not he fits in their long-term plans.

There are arguments to be made for keeping Coyle regardless of his contract status. If he’s as good a fit as he was late in last season, there’s no denying that he makes the Bruins a more complete team. The upcoming season could be the Bruins’ last best shot with a “core” that includes Zdeno Chara...why not load up and go for it, consequences be damned?

If that’s the way the Bruins see it, it’s hard to fault them. But if they end up deciding come February that Coyle isn’t in their long-term plans, what’s the play?

In that scenario, the Bruins would have to be pretty comfortable with one of either Jack Studnicka or Trent Frederic taking over that 3C role. What happens over the next several months will go a long way toward addressing how feasible either of those scenarios would be.

If, for example, Frederic makes the team out of camp and opens eyes through January, does that suddenly make Coyle expendable, or do the Bruins take a more measured approach?

If it’s up to me, I keep Coyle regardless of his intentions for 2020-2021. He was brought in to be a missing piece for a contender, and was part of the reason they came as close as you possibly can to getting the job done.

There aren’t going to be a ton of kicks at the can left with the Rask-Krejci-Chara-Bergeron group, and while trading Coyle isn’t exactly waving the white flag, it’s also not likely to be a move that makes the team significantly better.

No, you usually don’t want to let something of value go for nothing. But sometimes, rolling the dice is better than the alternative.


Do you see Charlie Coyle staying in Boston beyond this season?

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