BOSTON – Like death, taxes and the return of the cliff swallows to Mission San Juan Capistrano, it is an inevitability in the hockey world. Moments after the trade deadline passes, the predictable ‘Winners and Losers’ analyses emerge from the mouths and keyboards of pundits, present company included.
A little over three months ago, nobody was rushing to put the Boston Bruins in the ‘Winner’ category because they were too busy gushing praise on the Columbus Blue Jackets, Vegas Golden Knights and Nashville Predators. This might be a good time to remind you that Nashville’s gold star was based on the fact they went out and got Mikael Granlund and Wayne Simmonds. As the kids say, woof. (Full disclosure: TheHockeyNews.com had the Bruins neither in the ‘Winner’ nor ‘Loser’ category, but some outlets had them as losers.)
In retrospect, Bruins GM Don Sweeney arguably did the best work at the deadline. And if the Bruins manage to win Game 7 of the final Wednesday night and hoist the Stanley Cup, it will be in large part because of his acquisitions of Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson. Neither of them was Mark Stone or Artemi Panarin, but it’s proof once again that it’s usually the under-the-radar deals and not the blockbusters that make the biggest difference.
Through the playoffs, Coyle has been one of the Bruins’ best forwards. Going into Game 7, he’s in a four-way tie with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak for most playoff goals on the Bruins with nine. After struggling to find his place, he solidified the Bruins’ third line and provided them with the valuable secondary scoring they’ve needed. Throughout the playoffs, Johansson was Coyle’s left winger and meshed seamlessly with the team, providing responsible play at both ends of the ice and an abundance of skill and savvy.
The Bruins most certainly didn’t see immediate dividends from their acquisitions, both of whom struggled through the regular-season games with the team. Johansson suffered a lung contusion in his fourth game with the Bruins that kept him out of the lineup for the next 10 games. That had a ripple effect that had Coyle shifting between center and right wing and struggling to find a comfort zone in the lineup. But once Johansson got back and Coyle established himself as the third-line center, things took off for both the players and the Bruins.
“Our system is different than Minnesota and that’s where we lost a little bit,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said of Coyle. “But then once we got going, he has been excellent for us. Secondary offense has been paramount to our success and the bottom of our lineup scoring timely goals is part of that. Johansson came in with us and has found his way. It’s been a nice fit for us.”
Things were a little awkward at first when it came to Johansson, considering 13 months prior to the trade, Brad Marchand knocked Johansson out of the lineup for two months with a nasty elbow that left him seriously concussed. Johansson called the hit “stupid” and suggested the five-game suspension Marchand received was not long enough. Shortly after the deal was made, Marchand reached out to Johansson and made amends, which Johansson accepted.
“I think it starts with their character off the ice,” Marchand said of Johansson and Coyle. “They’re both phenomenal guys, great teammates and great people. Those weren’t just two trades where they pulled guys’ names out of a hat. They targeted those guys, great acquisitions. They gave us the depth we needed. We were missing some pieces and it’s awesome they brought them in to make us competitive.”
And both are motivated players. Coyle, who has one year left on his deal, is a Boston kid who talked about how, when the Bruins last won in 2011, he was conflicted between cheering for his hometown team and the fact that he had already been drafted by the San Jose Sharks. Johansson, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer, wants to make the most of a rare chance.
“They understand what’s at stake,” Cassidy said. “’Jo-Jo’ was close in Washington and watched his good friends and teammates win it last year, so I think he feels he missed out on that and this is his opportunity.”
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