After trading Ryan Donato and a pick for Charlie Coyle, GM Don Sweeney said that the Boston Bruins might be done at the trade deadline.
“I don’t know if we’re necessarily going to do anything else,” Sweeney said during a conference call, via NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty. “We are going to continue to make calls and receive calls, and we’ll continue to monitor the marketplace to see what may or may not fit with our hockey club. We’re going to continue to cross our fingers that we stay healthy. I think our club has . . . put themselves in a position to compete for a playoff spot and improve the positioning if possible as we come down to the last 21 games. We’re going to continue to look at areas. But we’re excited.”
The Bruins pushed their winning streak to seven games on Wednesday, tentatively giving them home-ice in a potential first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. So, yeah, it’s understandable that Boston’s excited about its chances. The fact that they’ve accomplished this while navigated injuries to the likes of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Zdeno Chara only brightens their outlook.
But, should the Bruins continue to add? Let’s take a look at how much of a boost Coyle might be, what the Bruins have to work with, and try to gauge the pros and cons of more trades.
A versatile piece
As strong as the Bruins have been in 2018-19, they’ve been extremely top-heavy, counting on a mixture of staunch defense, fantastic goaltending, and the top line of Pastrnak-Bergeron-Brad Marchand.
Charlie Coyle could give David Krejci a viable winger, along with Jake DeBrusk. He has plenty of experience centering his own lines, too, so Boston may eventually decide that Coyle works best as a 3C.
When we look back on the trade, it’s possible that we’ll realize that the Bruins might have sold low on Ryan Donato’s potential. Whatever the cause (coach, his own struggles) was, the 22-year-old was only averaging 12:30 TOI per game this season, down from last year’s rookie workrate of 14:42.
Whether Coyle explodes alongside a playmaker like Krejci, merely produces at his solid Wild rate, or anchors a third line, it’s nearly certain that he’ll provide more immediate dividends than what Donato would have delivered from Bruce Cassidy’s doghouse.
If Coyle ends up being the extent of the Bruins’ trade deadline spoils, it wouldn’t be all bad.
Now, if the Bruins want more, things get interesting.
At a very affordable $3.2M cap hit (through 2019-20), Coyle doesn’t break the bank, and is likely to be more valuable than he’s getting paid. The Bruins also didn’t give up much in draft capital to land Coyle, merely handing over a conditional fifth-rounder along with Donato.
So the Bruins have their picks, most notably from the top three rounds, along with the Rangers’ fourth. For a contending team that’s already added a roster player, the Bruins have reasonable ammo to try to go after someone else.
Cap Friendly projects the Bruins’ trade deadline cap space at about $15.74M. (Things get a little tricky when you consider prorated cap hits and possible performance bonuses, but the bottom line is that they have more to work with than the full-season projection of $3.384M.)
Considering the circumstances, Boston would be best served only looking for a rental.
It’s unclear if Zdeno Chara would continue his run of one-year deals, and if he’d seek a raise from his current $5M mark. Charlie McAvoy‘s headed for a big raise from his rookie deal, with the only question being how much he’ll get. Danton Heinen‘s slated to become an RFA, too. Overall, the Bruins have enough concerns (including Torey Krug only being covered through 2019-20) that they’d be wise not to make too many longer-term additions. Again, Coyle’s only locked down through 2019-20 himself, so he’s likely to be more expensive in the future in his own right.
If the Bruins wanted to go bolder – but more awkward and complicated – they could also try to move David Backes‘ contract.
Backes, 34, carries a $6M cap hit through (whew) 2020-21. According to Cap Friendly, Backes has a no-movement clause through this season, which then morphs into a modified no-trade clause, so Boston would need Backes to OK a move.
Getting another team to absorb Backes’ contract would also require some convincing, yet maybe the Bruins could bribe a budget team to take it on in exchange for a pick or two? While his cap hit is unsightly, the term is becoming less formidable, and his total salary drops from $6M in 2018-19 to $4M in 2019-20 and 2020-21. These details make a Backes trade feel far more likely after this season, but it might not hurt to explore ideas now.
The bottom line is that the Bruins have some bullets in the chamber, but they’ll probably be hunting for mid-range targets, rather than the Artemi Panarin-level stars. If they even take any other shots, mind you.
A question of windows
We’ve gotten into nitty gritty details, but zooming out on the larger terrain makes future planning arguably even more interesting.
On one hand, this might be the Bruins’ best chance at a deep run. While they’ve been able to unearth some real gems in the draft, particularly Pastrnak and McAvoy, the Bruins are nonetheless highly dependent on some aging players.
Chara is 41, and still important. Bergeron seems ageless at 33, but you never know when Father Time will pull an about-face. Marchand is 30, and Krejci is 32. Tuukka Rask isn’t ancient at 31, and Jaroslav Halak isn’t either at 33, yet a more demanding game could open the door for both of their impressive goalies to slide.
For all we know, the Bruins’ window could close, and as we’ve seen from teams like the Kings, sometimes that collapse is abrupt.
That said, there’s no denying that the Bruins face a bumpy road to a hopeful playoff run.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are so far ahead of everyone else, it’s honestly kind of ridiculous. There’s the impression that we still haven’t seen the best of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who might still have some tricks up their sleeves at the trade deadline. And those are just the most prominent teams in the Bruins’ bracket.
Such competition serves as potential inspiration to add, but it also might feel discouraging. Should the Bruins really mortgage their future when they’d be beating long odds in getting out of the second round?
The good news is that the Coyle trade doesn’t close all doors for the Bruins, but it doesn’t mean these are easy questions to answer.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.