By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
“I swear, if it’s the Bruins that acquired Charlie Coyle, I’m going to jump through that [expletive] window.”
That was the text I sent a friend when word came down that Coyle had been traded to a then-unknown team.
It’s over-the-top, I admit.
But considering the market for centers (especially those with term), I was terrified that the Bruins were going to mortgage a significant part of their future for a dude with 10 goals and 28 points in 60 games.
Then it came through: Coyle was on his way to Boston.
“OK, the window it is,” I texted.
Then the return came in: Coyle was on his way to the Hub in exchange for Ryan Donato and a conditional fifth-round pick.
It wasn’t quite enough to make me go Cowardly Lion in Emerald City here in Dorchester, but it did come with its own range of emotions on the Bruins’ plans and current path.
Oh, cool, we’re giving up on Ryan Donato after 46 games and 600 minutes in the NHL. “Surely, there’s no way this will bite them in the ass,” he says as he prepared to watch the Bruins play against a team featuring Reilly Smith that night, and with a second-half slate that will give me multiple showings of Frank “20 goals and 33 points” Vatrano on the Panthers.
This wasn’t a blind defense of the Scituate, Mass.(quick shoutout to Humarock Beach) native.
Donato has holes in his game; he’s not a tremendous skater, is not the most stabilizing presence in the defensive zone, and he got bodied off pucks a little too much for Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy’s liking. Still, it never felt as if these things made Donato — at 22 years old and still getting his first real taste of professional hockey — a lost cause. (He also had a cannon of a shot few in the Boston pipeline can match.)
You gotta give to get, sure, and nobody can run from that.
But can we at least acknowledge that the value of Donato was — at the very worst — considerably damaged by some strange usage, a relatively rapid loss of faith, and most importantly not maximized the way it should have been?
This was a Hobey Baker finalist that left Harvard and immediately made an impact, with five goals and nine points in 12 games last year. You trusted him to replace Rick Nash on your second line and power play, and he ended up being your fourth-most productive forward over that span. And after an offseason that saw you pass on re-upping veterans and making a big splash in free agency because you knew you needed to save some cap space to sign Donato (and more) in 2019, you pulled the plug on that previously established trust about a month into the 2018-19 season. From there, Donato was utilized as a fourth-line, power-play specialist. That did nothing to develop his game or work on his obvious weaknesses.
And if the trust and belief in Donato on the part of the Bruins coaching staff and front office was Thanos’d that quickly into his first full regular season as a pro, you have to wonder if it was ever truly there at all. Which comes back to the greater point of a bungled summer and season that has yet to see Boston move one of their prospects for the proper value/return.
Given his success and status as a malleable raw talent with natural goal-scoring upside, Donato should have been pieced as a ‘significant’ part of a trade for scoring help, like a Mark Stone or even a Kevin Hayes (a more offensive, top-six center).
I mean, if addressing your third-line struggles cost you Donato, what would the definite need of a top-six boost cost?
This seemed like the long game of value lost on the part of Sweeney.
Awesome: Everybody’s now an expert on the Wild and is going to tell me that Coyle is this incredible third-line center.
Ignore the fact that he has the 22nd-worst faceoff percentage among the 118 NHLers with at least 1,700 faceoffs over the last four years. He’s now your faceoff ace on a line that’s struggled to possess the puck and then turn it into something beyond a wasted chance. Forget about the fact that he’s averaged 38 points outside of that career-high 56-point year in 2016-17. That’s no longer an outlier, that’s instead what he will immediately be with the Bruins.
Let’s note that he can play on the power play, but ignore the fact that he had played 114 minutes on Minnesota’s man advantage this season, but recorded just three points over that span. (To put that in perspective, that means Coyle was the third-least productive forward out of the 147 NHL forwards to have played at least 110 minutes of power-play time this year.)
Let’s talk about his penalty kill prowess, but disregard fact that he’s not great at winning PK draws, that teams pummeled pucks on net with him on the ice, and that Minny’s penalty kill as a whole has been pretty average this season.
Don’t bother acknowledging the difference between being a true all-situation player and a player that simply plays in all situations.
Please credit him as a physical and responsible center, but ignore the fact that he ranked 11th among Wild forwards in hits per 60 minutes and gave the puck away at the team’s fifth-worst rate this season. Mention that he will be a perfect ‘playoff presence,’ but don’t pay attention to the fact that he’s totaled just four points in his last 16 postseason contests. “But points aren’t everything.” Glad you said that: Over that 16-game run, Coyle contributed six blocked shots, dished out 28 hits, won 50 of his 103 faceoffs, and averaged just 20 seconds of shorthanded time on ice per night.
Intangibles King, he is not.
But, please, continue to bill him as everything he is not.
This denial is delicious.
OK, fine. I’ve simultaneously overrated Ryan Donato and underrated Charlie Coyle into a perfect storm of hot takes.
A bad idea, especially when you understand the trade.
I can’t sit here and tell you that the Bruins have to go all out for a Stanley Cup and also clutch my pearls over the idea of losing Ryan Donato’s potential (which may never fully arrive). I can’t sit here and complain about a “third line” that plays a 11 minutes a night and then also say that Coyle isn’t a worthwhile add. It’d also be intellectually dishonest of me to say that the Bruins did not legitimately improve their team when they added an actual NHL piece to their puzzle without subtracting from it.
All things considered, acquiring a third-line center — and that’s how Bruce Cassidy and Sweeney both view Coyle — with more than a couple months left on his contract for a player with 46 NHL games and a conditional fifth-round pick is solid.
Given what the Predators paid to acquire the 33-year-old pending unrestricted free agent Brian Boyle (a second-round pick), it may even be a win for Sweeney.
Acceptance (for now)
So, fine, I don’t hate the trade as much as I did at 6 p.m. Wednesday and at the time of the window text.
But that’s because I think the Bruins have more planned. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
The Bruins still have the assets to pull off a whopper. And whoppers are still on the block, from Ottawa’s Mark Stone to the Blue Jackets’ Artemi Panarin. Hell, the Bruins still have enough assets for multiple smaller-scale plays, like a potential deal for the Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello or Hayes, Sens winger Ryan Dzingel, or Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds. You’d hope that the Bruins are still aware that these players are worth a move, especially if it allows to improve Coyle’s line with another scorer by way of a move down the depth chart for somebody such as Danton Heinen or Peter Cehlarik.
If this deadline comes and goes with just Coyle, though, I’m 90 percent back to hating this move.
It’s simply not enough to push you over the top, and if you’re not making moves to legitimately do that right now, you’re almost better off letting Donato develop (and letting Trent Frederic log NHL minutes) and seeing if you can turn them into something more. Adding Coyle and Coyle alone is a classic half-in, half-out move that frustrates more than satisfies, and something I would have hoped Sweeney, now in his fourth season on the job, would have graduated from at this point.
In other words, I’ve accepted this trade… with the idea that it’s the first step of a multi-move deadline week for Sweeney.
So maybe I’ll hold off on the whole window thing for now.
Until 3:01 p.m. on Monday, anyway.