BOSTON — Charlie Coyle’s major “what if?” on Saturday has to do with the health of a teammate.
If Brett Ritchie can play against the Wild at TD Garden, then Coyle will center the Bruins’ third line, with Anders Bjork as his left wing. If Ritchie’s on-and-off upper body injury keeps him out, Coyle will play right wing next to David Krejci on the Bruins’ second line.
There’s another “what if?”, and it concerns the Bruins’ opponent.
Coyle, the 27-year-old forward from Weymouth, Mass., played 479 games for the Wild from 2012 until Feb. 20 of this year, when the Bruins acquired him for Ryan Donato and a fourth-round draft pick. On the Wild side, the trade was executed by general manager Paul Fenton, who was fired after only 13 months on the job on June 30.
The Wild are now managed by Bill Guerin, the U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer from Western Massachusetts who spent two seasons (2000-02) with the B’s.
What if the Wild hadn’t dismissed GM Chuck Fletcher, who traded for Coyle while he was property of the San Jose Sharks in 2011, and never traded him despite persistent rumors that Coyle could be had for the right price? Or what if, instead of Fletcher, the Wild had hired someone like, say, Guerin to replace Fletcher in the summer of 2018?
Coyle has to have wondered, right?
“Oh, sure, you think about things like that,” he said. “Not too in depth, but it crosses your mind: ‘I wonder what would have happened if it played out this way or that way?’
“Not that I’m wishing or anything, but sometimes you just think about it: ‘Hmm ... that would have been interesting.’”
Coyle, understandably, is thrilled that he gets to play just north of his hometown. And head coach Bruce Cassidy has what he considers the perfect home for Coyle in the Bruins’ lineup, but hasn’t been able to keep him there much lately. Injuries have struck the right wing position especially hard, with rookies Karson Kuhlman and Zach Senyshyn sidelined by long-term lower body issues, and veterans Ritchie and David Backes dealing with unpredictable upper body situations. Coyle, as a result, has recently had to move to right wing on a fairly regular basis.
“We’re still taking from one (area) to help the other until we get healthy,” Cassidy said, “but I like the way (Bjork and Coyle) play together. I think they’re slotted (third line) where they’re best suited for our team.”
Coyle has generally thrived in a third-center role since arriving in Boston — especially during last spring’s run to the Stanley Cup Final, when he contributed nine goals and 16 points over 24 games. It took him a while to produce this season, but a recent five-game point streak (2-4—6) has him up to 4-7—11 through 22 games.
Some of that spurt came with Coyle playing between Bjork and Danton Heinen, some when he was Krejci’s right wing. Coyle’s versatility puts Cassidy in something of a no-lose situation, but he thinks keeping Coyle in the middle sets the B’s up better to win.
“Can (Coyle) play right wing with Krejci? Absolutely,” Cassidy said. “Is he a better center than right winger? Time would tell if I kept him there, but what’s best for the Boston Bruins? Third line center.”
Coyle is content to let Cassidy deal with those ‘’what-ifs?’’, and isn’t having much difficulty handling his own.
“I’ll never know what it would have been like with a (different) GM” in Minnesota, Coyle said. “But obviously, I like where I’m at, and I can’t complain about that. I just know I’m really happy now.”
Around the boards
Cassidy said that defenseman Torey Krug (upper body) is “a strong probable” to return on Saturday after missing five games. The coach also hopes Ritchie and forward Par Lindholm, who sustained an 18-stitch cut in Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Sabres, are available to face the Wild. ... Patrice Bergeron, who returned on Thursday after missing two games with a lower body injury, had a maintenance day on Friday, but “should be good to go” against the Wild, per Cassidy. ... Defenseman Kevan Miller, who had been allowed limited participation in practice, has experienced what Cassidy called “a little setback” as he attempts to come back from breaking the same kneecap twice late last season. “I don’t think it’s major,” said the coach, “but ... we’re being really cautious at every turn. We don’t want Kevan to go through what he did last year.”