There’s really no reason to take issue at all with either of the contract extensions handed out to Charlie Coyle and Chris Wagner on Wednesday afternoon ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Sure, there is the sentimental act of rewarding two Massachusetts kids that play hard, play like Bruins should play and are naturals doing things around the community because they are us, and they know they’re basically a couple of local kids that won the hockey lottery and are living the hockey dream.
But at its core, this is about the on-ice product. And if they couldn’t play then Coyle wouldn’t have been signed to a six-year contract worth $5.25 million per season and Wagner wouldn’t have been signed to a three-year deal paying him $1.35 million per season.
Let’s take Coyle first. The 27-year-old Weymouth native will be in his hockey prime throughout the six-year contract, and he plays a key role for the B’s as a versatile forward capable of playing multiple positions on multiple lines. Coyle is literally the only player in the entire Bruins organization that could step in long-term if anything happens to either 33-year-old David Krejci or 34-year-old Patrice Bergeron.
Krejci will be entering the final year of his contract next season with the Black and Gold, and the assumption is that Coyle will replace him as the No. 2 center following that. And $5 million is a bargain for a second-line center in the NHL.
Coyle plays in all situations with both penalty kill and power play on his resume, and he’s also shown this season that he can step in and spell Bergeron at the bumper spot on the top power play unit when No. 37 isn’t in the lineup. That’s another important, underrated skill for Coyle for a player that’s not exactly lighting it up right now with five goals and 14 points in 24 games this season.
Coyle is also one of the few forwards with some size on the Bruins roster at 6-foot-3, 220-pounds and it showed in the playoffs last season when he stepped up and scored nine goals and 16 points in the 24-game run to the Stanley Cup Final.
The downside, of course, is that Coyle has only topped 20 goals in a season once in his NHL career and has only gone over 40 points twice, which is middling production for a player that has size, strength, skating ability and plenty of skill.
But the six-year term and the $5.25 million are the cost of doing business if the Bruins wanted to retain Coyle, and it will probably be less than he might have received on the open market had he made it to free agency.
The three-year term and $1.35 million cap hit are perfectly fine for a versatile fourth-line winger in Wagner coming off a career-high 12 goals last season, and one that is leading the Bruins in registered hits this season as a physical player on the fourth line.
The Bruins might have been able to scrimp and save a few hundred thousand dollars to find any number of fourth line candidates out there following this season. But why bother when they’ve found a great fit in the 28-year-old Wagner who’s going to continue playing hard regardless of how much job security he has with the Bruins.
The only problem with all of this could be that there’s a conspicuous free-agent-to-be out there for the B’s. Torey Krug remains unsigned as the most important UFA this offseason for the Black and Gold, and the money earmarked now for Coyle and Wagner means there may be a little less for the elite offensive defenseman.
It certainly doesn’t mean with 100 percent surety that Krug is a goner, and as it stands the Bruins still have plenty of money under the cap with roughly $54 million committed for next season. But they also have Krug, Zdeno Chara, Matt Grzelcyk, Jake DeBrusk, Kevan Miller and Jaroslav Halak among the free agents looking for new deals following this season, and somewhere around $30 million to fit them in along with youngsters like Anders Bjork and Karson Kuhlman.
The two goals and four points that Gryzelcyk posted in five games while Krug was injured this season speak to the depth that Boston has on the back end. The simple, real truth with the Bruins is that they have a lot of talented D-men that could step up and fill in if Krug moved on after this season, even if none of them fit the dynamic 10-goal, 50-point impact D-man mold he's carved out for himself over his career in Boston.
Usually, NHL general managers take care of the most important deals first when handing out contracts and then begin to fill in the blanks once cost certainty has been achieved with the big pieces. It was notable that Boston took care of Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo before even opening contract negotiations with Krug this summer, and now have inked Coyle and Wagner while Krug remains unsigned with a great deal of money waiting for him if he makes it to NHL unrestricted free agency on July 1.
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