Okay, so it wasn’t a headline-grabbing trade deadline, but the B’s have gone 1-0-0-1 with 3 out of 4 points since acquiring veteran forwards Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson in separate trades last week and on Monday’s annual NHL trade deadline.
We’re all still waiting on Don Sweeney’s “signature” trade- he’s made some relatively minor deals in his tenure as GM since succeeding Peter Chiarelli in spring 2015, but as of yet, we haven’t seen a major franchise-altering transaction under his watch. And that’s okay- as of right now at least- because it’s hard to argue that the Bruins haven’t at least improved since Sweeney sent scoring prospect Ryan Donato and a 5th pick to Minnesota for the Weymouth native and former San Jose 1st-rounder in 2010.
The biggest challenge facing Sweeney and Co. is the specter of the NHL’s top club in Tampa Bay (who summarily dismissed the B’s from the postseason a year ago) and an improving Toronto Maple Leafs franchise who will be an even tougher out (after taking Boston to seven games in the first round last year). It’s entirely possible that some of the consternation about what the team did at the deadline you might see out there from media and fans alike has to do with how potent the Atlantic Division is and that the perception is that Boston didn’t do enough. That’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes and no one ever said winning a championship is easy.
Here’s some quick analysis of the two newest Bruins after watching 2 games with Coyle and Johansson’s debut vs. the Sharks:
Coyle: The former BU Terrier’s (who played with Chris Wagner on the EJHL’s South Shore Kings after a couple of years at Thayer Academy) strength lies in his playing style and versatility. He’s a big body who has a solid skating and skill base, but is also a versatile and experienced NHL forward. He showed off a nifty set of hands against St. Louis when he extended the shootout with a bevy of moves in tight to freeze and then slide the puck past rookie sensation (and former Providence Bruin) Jordan Binnington. The B’s couldn’t seize the extra point, but Coyle provides a solid presence in the middle of the lineup as a player who is in his prime and is good for about 50-60 points at the top end, but can play both center and wing.
Coaches will tell you that the guys who are able to play up and down the lineup and who can move around on the forward lines bring important value, as it might be easy (and lazy) for those on the outside to just assume that every forward can do it. That’s not the case, and so at some point, Coyle’s ability to be a steady third-liner who can play with better players on the top two lines if Boston’s forward corps takes a hit, will boost the B’s.
In giving up Donato, the B’s provided Minnesota with a pure scoring forward who showed off the promise that saw him be a second-round pick in 2014: the former Harvard star has a goal and 6 points in his first three games with the Wild. He certainly showed promise a year ago when he joined the B’s after the Olympics with a 2-goal, 3-point debut, so it is certainly a trade that helps both teams. You can make the argument that no other forward in the B’s organization had the pure scoring chops and long-term offensive potential of Donato, but he also demonstrated that he had some work to do in rounding out his game. Head coach Bruce Cassidy talked about the youngster’s challenges and shortcomings when Donato was returned to Providence, and it’s not for a lack of effort, it’s just something that certain players, especially inexperienced pros for whom the offense has always come easy, sometimes experience. Whether talking about Donato’s game away from the puck/details or some challenges with driving through contact (something Cassidy talked about), some teams require an ability to play in structure more than others. For Donato, going to the Wild is a great opportunity for him, because he’s set up to do his thing on offense with a coach in Bruce Boudreau who doesn’t have as much in the way of details and responsibilities as the Bruins do. It, therefore, shouldn’t be a surprise that Donato is piling up the points right now- he’s skilled enough to do it. We’ll see if he continues to trend up as the adrenaline wears off and teams adjust to his role on the new club, or there’s a leveling off.
The Bruins needed to bring more balance to the roster, and by moving on Coyle, Sweeney got ahead of the deadline rush, ensuring he had a capable player in the bag. Most fans don’t want to hear about capable players as much as they want higher-end, big impact additions. But in reality, two of the most available players to fit that bill- Matt Duchene and Mark Stone– both dealt to Columbus and Vegas respectively- unfortunately played in the same division as Boston. As much as folks don’t want to hear it, there is usually a “rival premium” to be paid by intra-division trades, and so while you can look at the prices the acquiring teams paid for both players and make the argument that the B’s should have been willing to do the same, the cost to do so charged by the Ottawa Senators would have been higher to keep those players within the division. In the end, the big fish didn’t land in Boston’s boat, but Coyle’s heavier-on-pucks style was a more sensible approach to making the team better and opened the door for Sweeney to do something more on Monday as the final NHL feeding frenzy played itself out.
Which brings us to Johansson… “MoJo”, who was drafted by the Washington Capitals one pick before the B’s called Jordan Caron’s name in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, was acquired from New Jersey for Boston’s 2nd-round pick this year and a 4th in 2020, a little less than two years after Ray Shero picked him up for 2nd and 3rd-round picks in the 2017 offseason.
Full disclosure: Johansson’s acquisition was met with less enthusiasm here. Full disclosure pt. 2: 1/3 of the 3 Amigos, Reed Duthie, had the story that the B’s were looking hard at MJ90 early on…as in the week before the deadline and was on record over the weekend that he could be the team’s fallback option if things didn’t work out. Kudos to Reed for being on top of things (he certainly knows his Swedes!), and so let’s peel the onion back a bit on what Johansson means for the Bruins.
On the positive side, he’s a fast, creative playmaking winger who can set the table effectively- a speedier David Krejci type on the wing if you will. He’s been a solid top-six forward in the NHL for several years and did have to battle through injuries, the most serious of which happened in his first season with the Devils after taking a headshot from Brad Marchand. Johansson is a pro, and the two, while probably not being the best of buddies in the room, said the right things and eliminated any friction and unnecessary storylines. Going from a non-playoff team to one that is near the top of the regular season standings and in the midst of a 14-game points streak will do that for you. He’s an articulate, hard-working team-first guy, which improves the already-strong Boston culture.
On the downside, Johansson is more of a complementary piece and while he improves Boston’s depth and brings better balance to all four of the team’s lines, he’s not all that heavy and will have to play out of position as someone who has spent the bulk of his career on the left side. He did show promise right off the bat, starting a tic-tac-toe play with Krejci after taking a Jake DeBrusk pass against the Sharks, which resulted in DeBrusk’s 20th goal of the season in the 4-1 B’s win Tuesday.
So, the more we think about it, the more we like the Johansson move. He’s 28 and like Coyle, in his prime- this isn’t an aging rental player situation here, even if neither forward brings the kind of ‘wow’ factor that many were hoping for at the 2019 deadline. Part of that has to do with valid concerns about the closing window of opportunity for players all on the wrong side of 30 (and 40) like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask and Krejci; part of it has to do with Sweeney’s aforementioned lack of a major trade on his GM resume. And part of it has to do with the reality of looking at the formidable force that is the Tampa Bay Lightning and what kind of a Herculean task it will be to defeat them. Assuming the Bruins make the playoffs (they will) and win a round (they will) eventually, David has to face Goliath. As solid as Johansson and Coyle are, the B’s will need a lot to break right for them if they are going to advance past where they did in 2018.
Overall, TSP gives Sweeney and the Bruins a solid B/B+ graded on the curve for the latest acquisitions. The B’s offense has come alive ironically without the services of top goal scorer David Pastrnak, who is going to be out another 2-4 weeks with his hand injury, but the new additions take the pressure off of Danton Heinen to fill the void when opponents are able to negate the offense of Marchand/Bergeron and Pastrnak when he returns. The Boston defense and goaltending is a strength, but in the end- will it be enough?
Sweeney’s refusal to part with the team’s 1st-round pick and top prospects like Jack Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen and Trent Frederic meant that he wasn’t going to get the bigger names. Wayne Simmonds would have been a nice addition as would have Gustav Nyquist, two forwards linked to the B’s via rumors and reliable sources. But would have landing one or the other on Monday have made the team significantly better than it is today with Coyle and Johansson?
We say no.
The B’s took steps forward in the past seven days. How much better they are remains to be seen, but the team is positioned to solidify a spot in the postseason for a third consecutive spring. Beyond that, anything can happen and to try and paint them as top contenders or one-and-done also-rans is premature.