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What’s going on with Charlie Coyle?

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If the Bruins want to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, Coyle will need to find his game

Boston Bruins v New Jersey Devils Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

When the Bruins traded for Charlie Coyle in 2019, one of the knocks on him to that point was his inconsistency.

Upon leaving for Boston, our friends over at Hockey Wilderness had this to write about Coyle:

“He’s almost everything an NHL GM would want in a prototypical player. The only issue with Coyle has been that all that prototypical size and skill has been a giant tease.”

For Wild fans, Coyle frustrated them with long cold streaks, limited perimeter play, and the fact that at times, he seems to be just going through the motions from game to game.

And then Coyle got traded to the Bruins, and everything Wild fans thought about Coyle couldn’t have seemed farther from what the Bruins were getting out of him - especially Coyle’s play during the Bruins' run to the Cup Final in 2019 and the great regular season he had last year.

Coyle finally provided the answer to Boston’s third line center question that had been plaguing them for years, and his play earned him a handsome 6-year / $31,500,000 contract that began last season.

And then the 2021 season began...

To say Coyle has struggled so far this season would be an understatement. Pretty much every Coyle statistic and metric show the he’s in the midst of one of his worst seasons of his career.

Offensively, if you take Coyle’s current stats and project them over an 82-game schedule, Coyle would only be on pace for 12 goals and 11 assists, numbers that would be career lows.

Coyle’s shot production is also way down as well. Currently, he only has 21 shots on net in 15 games, which means he’s averaging just 1.4 shots a game; only in his rookie year did he average fewer shots per game.

Additionally, if you’ve watched Coyle and the lines he’s centered since being in Boston, he and his linemates have had great puck possession numbers.

However, this year this hasn’t happened. Coyle himself has some of his worst advanced stats in his career this year (Corsi and Fenwick) and when on the ice, his line is giving up many more high danger scoring chances than they are generating themselves.

As a result, Coyle has been on the ice for 10 even-strength goals against, while he and his line mates have only scored 4 times.

Finally, Coyle seems to be far less engaged physically this season.

Although never really a big hitter, Coyle has averaged about 76 hits over an 82 game season during his NHL career.

This year, Coyle’s just on pace for 54 hits over 82 games. Moreover, although not always the best indicator of how much a guy is involved in the game, Coyle’s blocked shots are also on track for a career low. Usually he blocks around 46 shots per season; this year, if he played 82 games he’d be projected to block just 27 shots.

So What’s Going On With Coyle?

The most common cause for players playing below their usual standards is an injury, which could very much be the case with Coyle.

Coyle’s first 8 games of the season were much better than his last 7 in terms of offensive production, so it’s possible that he was injured at some point this season.

Or the problem could simply be the lack of line-up consistency. Although Coyle has played frequently with Trent Frederic and Craig Smith, he has also played stretches with Bjork, DeBrusk, Wagner, Ritchie and Kulhman on his wings.

It has been quite disappointing to see a lack of chemistry forming between Smith and Coyle. It seemed when Smith signed he’d be the perfect fit with Coyle, but the pair have only factored in on 2 goals together.

The last option, and it’s one Bruins management and fans dread, is that this is just who Coyle really is: the guy that the Wild dealt simply because there were just too many nights when Coyle was invisible on the ice.

Take the last game against the Devils, for example: when Krejci had to leave the game with a lower body injury, this would have been the perfect time for Coyle to step up to fill the void. Instead, it was if he didn’t even play last night: he registered 1 shot on net, 1 hit, 2 PIMs, and was a -1.

More telling was the fact that he was not on the ice in final minutes of the game when the Bruins had their goalie pulled, as Cassidy elected to send out Nick Ritchie and Craig Smith with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Charlie McAvoy.

Whatever the problem is that is preventing Coyle from playing at his best, the Bruins need Coyle to turn it around, both in the short-term and long term.

If David Krejci is out for any significant length of time, the Bruins will need Coyle to fill the void as the team’s second-line center.

In the long term, to win in the playoffs, teams need their third lines to be clicking. This isn’t going to happen if Coyle isn’t playing to his full potential.