Boston Bruins’ fans didn’t really know what to expect when the team acquired forward Charlie Coyle from the Minnesota Wild last Feb. 20th in for Ryan Donato and a conditional fifth-round draft pick. It was basically a homecoming for Coyle as he hails from Weymouth, Massachusetts and he was brought in to provide secondary scoring as the team headed down the stretch run and into the playoffs. He also added some size with his 6-foot-3-inch, 220 lb frame.

Boston general manager Don Sweeney opted for experience rather than speed or youth when acquiring Coyle as he had 91 NHL goals and 242 points in 479 games at the time of the trade with 13 goals and 14 assists in 59 playoff games. He also had a seemingly-manageable $3.2 million a year price tag against the salary cap. However, Sweeney and the team’s fans may have second-guessed the move when Coyle managed just a pair of goals and four assists in his 21 regular-season games with the Bruins last season and was a minus-2.

Coyle erased all doubt with his playoff performance though as he suddenly caught fire and posted nine goals and seven assists in 24 contests as Boston came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup on home ice. Coyle was more or less used to center the third line in the postseason and looked quite comfortable in doing so. But heading into the 2019/20 season, the fans and organization are now wondering which version of Coyle will show up this year. Will it be the player who struggled during the regular season or the one who shone and tied for the team lead in goals during the playoffs?

Head coach Bruce Cassid plans on keeping Coyle at center ice rather than moving him to the right-wing and bumping him up to the team’s second line. Cassidy likes his depth at center with Patrice Bergeron in the middle of the first line, David Krejci anchoring the second unit followed by Coyle at the number three spot and Sean Kuraly pivoting the fourth line. Those plans aren’t written in stone though as Krejci and his left-winger Jake DeBrusk need a new linemate and Coyle could eventually end up playing with the pair once the season faces off.

Regardless of where Coyle plays the organization is just hoping he can bring the same production and enthusiasm from last year’s playoffs to the table. And while he’s definitely an NHL veteran, Coyle is just 27 years of age and should still be in his prime. It’s also interesting to note that he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the season. In this scenario, players his age tend to elevate their game heading into free agency since they know they may have a shot at a short big-money contract once they hit the market.

That’s good news for the Bruins as they should expect the best from Coyle this year. If they like what they see they have the option of keeping him for the entire season and if he has a disappointing campaign he could be shipped out of town at the trade deadline, freeing up some much-needed salary-cap space. Coyle enters the season with 93 goals, 155 assists and 248 points to his name in 500 regular-season outings with a plus-30 rating along with 16 goals and 31 points in 68 postseason encounters. On average, he scores 0.5 points per game so isn’t known as a high-scoring forward.

What makes Coyle an effective player though is his size, grit, and determination and that’s why he was drafted in the first round by the San Jose Sharks in 2010 with the 28th overall pick. Coyle was playing at Boston University when he was drafted and then later joined the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) where he posted 38 points in 23 regular-season games with 15 goals and 34 points in 17 playoff games.

Coyle never played an NHL game with San Jose however as he was traded to Minnesota in the summer of 2011 with Devin Setoguchi and a first-round draft pick for defenseman Brent Burns and a second-round draft pick. Through no fault of his own, it would become one of the most one-sided deals in NHL history as Burns would evolve into one of the league’s top-scoring blue liners and a James Norris Trophy winners as its best defenseman as well as a three-time All-Star. When arriving in Minnesota Coyle agreed to a three-year, entry-level contract early in 2012.

He made his pro debut with the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League (AHL  in 2012/13 and racked up 14 goals and 25 points in 47 games before being called up to Minnesota. He finished the season with the Wild and chipped in with eight goals and 13 points in 37 games with two assists in five playoff contests. Coyle was now a full-time NHL player and enjoyed his best season in Minnesota in 2016/17 when he registered 18 goals and 38 assists for 56 points. The assists and points were career-highs and he scored a personal best 21 goals the season before.

Coyle was something of an iron man early in his career in Minnesota and had played a franchise-record 316 straight games when he broke his leg in 2017–18. He missed just 16 games though and finished the season with 11 goals and 37 points. Coyle’s point production was on par with the rest of his career when Minnesota traded him to Boston last year as he had 10 goals and 28 points in 60 games at the time of the deal. The Wild were spinning their wheels though as the team had been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round for three straight seasons and felt a change was needed.   

If Coyle enjoys a good 2019/20 campaign in Boston there’s no doubt the team would like to keep him, especially for another run at the Stanley Cup, but they may not be able to afford him and stay under the salary cap going forward. Coyle should be looking for a new contract in the $5 million per season range when he hits free agency and several other Bruins are in need of new deals including Matt Grzelcyk and Jake DeBrusk. This means if Coyle stays, Sweeney may have to make some other moves to free up some salary-cap space.

Only time will tell if Coyle proves to be too good and valuable of a player to lose or if the Bruins will trade him. The team knows exactly what to expect from the big forward and so far he’s delivered in style after a slow start. Another option will be to keep Coyle on the roster for the playoffs and then let him walk away for nothing as a free agent. Whatever the outcome, Coyle should still have several strong NHL seasons left in him no matter who he plays for.