While it was always going to stand as something of a surprise to Boston Bruins fans that David Krejci opted to head home over one more run with the B’s next season, it clearly shouldn’t have been shocking to the team. The Black and Gold been prepared for the end of David Krejci’s contract for the last couple of years, and that was reflected in the big contract extension ($5.25M AAV) they handed Charlie Coyle two years ago.
Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed on Thursday that the B’s will give Coyle the first crack at the No. 2 center position behind Patrice Bergeron, with Taylor Hall and Craig Smith most likely on his wings. It’s the most obvious choice based on the candidates, even if it doesn’t exactly put fear into Boston’s opponents next season. Clearly, the Bruins are hoping that Hall and Smith can drive that line offensively given the six goals and 16 points Coyle managed in 51 games for the B’s last season while battling through knee issues.
The 29-year-old Coyle has topped 20 goals and 50 points just once in his NHL career, so we’re not talking about a Krejci-style playmaker that will rack up offensive chances. Instead, the B’s second line will likely turn into a big, physical trio intent on puck possession and second-chance opportunities that they’ll need to work for to get their chances.
At his best Coyle is a puck possession horse and a size/strength/speed beast in and around the net, but he’s never been a consistently dynamic offensive player at the NHL level. The Bruins are hoping Coyle will be at his best next season, but it’s still a question if even his best is good enough to be a No. 2 center for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
Clearly the Bruins are leaning toward Coyle, but open to see how things develop in training camp and during the regular season.
“The obvious choice is Charlie Coyle. He’s the most familiar with our guys and I’m the most familiar with him, and that would allow the other guys to fall into place. I know [Erik] Haula and [Tomas] Nosek prefer to play in the middle,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Nick Foligno is a little more of a guy that will move around, so that’s probably how it will play out for him. So, it’s Charlie and Taylor Hall [on the second line], and [Craig] Smith was on that line last year. So, if Coyle can bring some of what [David Krejci] did then that’s going to be a really good line.
“That’s the way we’re leaning, and we’ll see how all of the other pieces shake out. Jake [DeBrusk] obviously on the left side third line behind Brad and Taylor would be a good fit for him to start, and we’ll see where it goes for the other guys. We added some good pieces that can move around. I know Haula and Nosek prefer to play in the middle. We had [Trent Frederic] in there at times and on the wing at times. Then there’s Jack Studnicka and how he’ll fit in. Some of that will depend on his growth. He didn’t get to play a lot of hockey last year unfortunately, and like a lot of young players he missed time because of the COVID restrictions. But he’s also in the mix. He looks bigger and he’s really going to be pushing for a spot, so I have to include him in that mix as well.”
As Cassidy referenced, it will be interesting to see where the 22-year-old Studnicka ends up at the conclusion of training camp. After posting 23 goals and 49 points in 60 AHL games two seasons ago while pushing into NHL action during the bubble playoffs in Toronto, Studnicka had a lost season last year largely due to COVID.
Studnicka finished with a goal and three points in 20 games in Boston and had just seven assists in sporadic playing time for the Providence Bruins while spending plenty of time on the NHL taxi squad. It was obvious he needed to build up his NHL strength when he was in the lineup, and that’s something it looks like Studnicka has done while skating around at Warrior Ice Arena with the rest of the NHL guys this summer.
Though there have been whispers that the Bruins might still pursue a trade with a player like Arizona Coyotes center Christian Dvorak to fill the second line center need, the trade lines are drying up as NHL management types retreat to their summer cottages for the dead part of the offseason.
And no matter how much Jack Eichel would be a dream fit for the Bruins as he tries to escape Buffalo, the Bruins simply don’t have the trade pieces or the cap space to come away with the Chelmsford standout.
So, a trade doesn’t sound like it’s going to be an option at this point with the Bruins required to clear cap space for any big moves.
Cassidy also confirmed the B’s aren’t going to break up the Perfection Line to start the season either.
“We know what we have there. They’re a handful to play against,” said Cassidy. “Let’s see how everybody else shakes out more than start moving David [Pastrnak] around.”
The good news is that the additions of Foligno, Haula and Nosek really add to the overall depth of Boston’s forward group, and they still have DeBrusk as a potential trade chip once training camp gets going. But if some were hoping the Boston Bruins had a card up their sleeve to address Krejci’s departure, it sure doesn’t look like that’s going to happen with most of the dominoes already having fallen in the trade market.