Coyle deal better be first of at least a couple Bruins moves for it to be a winner

Matt Kalman
February 20, 2019 - 10:10 pm

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has four more days to make sure he has a team that can legitimately challenge the Tampa Bay Lightning for Eastern Conference supremacy the rest of this season.

For now he's just fine-tuning the product.

With all the big-name players that may be moved before the Feb. 25 trade deadline still with their respective teams, Sweeney opted to go small for a non-rental Wednesday and acquire Weymouth product Charlie Coyle from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for prospect Ryan Donato and a conditional fifth-round draft pick, which becomes a fourth-round pick if the Bruins win a round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

In Coyle the Bruins get a versatile forward that once scored 21 goals in a season (in 2015-16) but has just 10 goals in 60 games this season and will turn 27 next month. He is signed through next season at a $3.2 million salary-cap hit and he can play wing or center. He’s probably not skilled enough to be the top-six wing Boston coveted even before David Pastrnak’s injury, and he could be just as inconsistent as a third-line center as every other player that’s gone through that position this season.

Nonetheless, the Bruins are banking on him finding his scoring touch while playing in a deeper forward group than he was in with Minnesota. And they hope his 479 games of NHL experience mean that coach Bruce Cassidy can count on him more than rookies Trent Frederic and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, or even Donato.

The price was steep, as the 22-year-old Donato seems determined to round out his game and get his play without the puck almost on par with his offensive game (11 goals in 46 NHL games since leaving Harvard last spring). He still has room to grow and probably wasn’t going to help the Bruins this season. But a couple months ago he seemed like a huge piece of the Bruins’ future and now he’s been traded for a role player.

This trade is only a winner for the Bruins if another deal or two comes down the pipe before 3 p.m. Monday. The Bruins still lack top-six firepower, and their defense corps still lacks championship mettle, especially on the left side with an aging Zdeno Chara and a defensively insufficient Torey Krug holding down the fort.

Coyle would’ve been the perfect complementary piece for a Winnipeg, Nashville or Vegas – teams looking for one player to complete its bottom six to make Stanley Cup run. The Bruins were and are more than one secondary piece away, and Coyle can’t be their big add.

Donato was a valuable commodity and Sweeney now has to hope he didn’t strike too soon. If he did, you and him can’t say you weren’t warned because I wrote last week:

“For now it’s understandable that Sweeney hasn’t pulled the trigger. Prices will drop in the next eight days, and Sweeney doesn’t want to get caught overpaying, especially if someone better were to become available after he makes a deal. Sweeney is wise to be patient.”

Did Sweeney just put himself out of the running for Artemi Panarin and Mark Stone? Did he also leave himself without enough to secure Wayne Simmonds or Ryan Dzingel? One has to hope Sweeney knows he has other assets teams covet.

There’s the slim chance Sweeney somehow doesn’t think he needs a big rental to make a big push and believes Coyle is the final piece of a championship puzzle we all can’t see. Maybe we’re playing Jenga while Sweeney is building The Wall (Game of Thrones edition, not the southern border).

If you want to just grade this trade in the here and now based on price and addressing a need, it’s a B-minus to a C-plus. But the final grade really can’t be processed until we see what the Bruins look like Monday night.