Coyle will need all of the motivation he can get in what stands to be a pivotal season for the Weymouth native.
With both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci hanging up their skates this summer, the 2023-24 Bruins have a glaring hole at the top of their forward corps with both top-six center spots vacant.
Coyle is expected to earn a bump up in Boston’s lineup to open the season, with Bruins coach Jim Montgomery telling the Boston Herald that he plans to slot Coyle next to Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk once training camp commences next month.
Fellow center Pavel Zacha is also in line for more minutes and responsibilities as Krejci’s replacement on the second line, with the Czech forward expected to skate alongside David Pastrnak and James van Riemsdyk, according to Montgomery.
Coyle acknowledged that the Bruins don’t have the personnel to completely replace both Bergeron and Krejci’s talents and presence.
But if Coyle and several other Bruins forwards can take incremental steps in their larger roles in 2023-24, the veteran centerman believes that the Bruins still have the means to complement what should already be a very stout defensive unit and goaltending tandem between Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman.
“They’re world-class players, and we’re gonna miss them,” Coyle said of Bergeron and Krejci. “We all wish they could play. They’ve done so much for this city. … [But] those are job opportunities right now, right? So that gets me fired up and gets our team fired up too. … We want to solidify that culture that those guys brought and that’s why our organization, our team, is good.
“It’s because of that culture, how we treat everyone, the standard that’s set, the work ethic, all those little things is what those guys brought. So when those guys are gone, how do we emulate it, right? So we have a lot of guys step up, kind of put their hand in and make sure everyone’s pulling a little bit. Because you can’t replace those guys individually, you can’t replace Bergy and Krejci.”
Even though Coyle has excelled as a puck-possessing center on Boston’s third line during his five years with the Bruins, his viability as a top-six center is a bit of a question mark.
When Coyle is on his game, he can eat up the clock and drain opposing skaters by playing keep away with the puck. Even though he has only surpassed the 50-point threshold once in his NHL career, he made major strides in 2022-23 as Boston’s go-to shutdown center, freeing up more O-zone starts for Bergeron and Krejci.
As long as he continues to excel in the D-zone, Coyle could be a useful asset on a revamped two-way top line for Boston, with his offensive capabilities lifted next to proven wingers such as Marchand and DeBrusk.
He served admirably as Boston’s first-line center during the first few games of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Panthers, although it’s a tougher ask for him to replicate that production over the span of 82 games.
Still, Coyle believes he’s ready for the greater responsibilities set to fall on his shoulders this season.
He won’t be the only one handed such a tall task of replacing a Bruins legend.
“No one’s gonna be a Bergeron, but we can all put our hand in and make sure we pull the rope a little more and we have guys step up,” Coyle explained. “We’ve got guys who are a year older and have more experience who can bring their own leadership in whatever way they can and that’s what we need.
“We got new guys coming in, some veteran guys coming in too that can help. So that’s a tough thing when you lose guys like that, of that caliber. How do you replace them? You can’t do it solely, but it’s a team effort. And I like our team. … If we’ve got to claw our way a little more this year? So be it. That’s gonna help us in the long run come playoff time.”
Conor Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.