Things have worked out very well for defenceman Dan Boyle since he was traded to San Jose from Tampa Bay last summer.
The 32-year-old Ottawa native is thriving with the Sharks, who have been dominant this season with only three regulation losses in their first 27 games. That’s quite a difference from the Lightning, who are at the bottom of the NHL’s overall standings again this season.
Boyle has put up great numbers since joining San Jose. Entering Tuesday’s games, he was second among NHL defencemen with 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) and is on pace to surpass his single-season highs in goals, assists and points.
Things didn’t look so rosy on the ice earlier this year.
Boyle had signed a US$40-million, six-year deal with the Lightning in February but the club went on to finish in last place with just 71 points. New owners officially came on board in June and a flurry of roster moves soon followed. Boyle and his hefty contract were not part of the team’s future plans and he was shipped to San Jose.
Boyle, who had a no-trade clause in his contract, considered several teams before deciding on the Sharks. Looks like he made the right call.
“I just signed a six-year extension, was planning to be (in Tampa Bay) for a while,” Boyle said on a conference call Tuesday. “But certainly having seen the way some guys have been treated and what’s gone on so far, and the way on top of it I’ve been treated here, I have no regrets whatsoever.”
Tampa Bay is struggling again despite all the changes. Barry Melrose lasted just 16 games as head coach and interim coach Rick Tocchet hasn’t fared much better. At 6-13-8, the Lightning – who won the Stanley Cup in 2004 – are in last place with 20 points despite a lineup that features star forwards Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.
“I definitely feel bad for some of the guys I played with,” Boyle said. “I’m sad for the fans because they had built that organization to what it was.
“Now to see what’s happening out there, it’s probably more sad than anything for me because I still think it’s a great place to play and it’s very unfortunate that all this stuff is going on.”
The Sharks, meanwhile, have a sterling 22-3-2 record and lead the NHL with 46 points. They have posted at least one point in their past 25 home games dating back to last season.
Veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have led the way up front, Evgeni Nabokov has been solid in net while Boyle has been an anchor on the blue-line. Even rising stars like Devin Setoguchi are making big contributions.
“There’s a great mixture of guys here,” Boyle said. “There are some older guys that have been around. But I mean, the up-and-coming guys, some of these 21-year-olds that we have out here are just going to be players to be reckoned with for years to come.
“Joe Thornton is in the prime of his career. To me he seems like he’s only getting better. It’s certainly exciting for this year and for the years to come too.”
Boyle started his career with the Florida Panthers in 1998-’99 and was traded to Tampa Bay in 2002. He feels the Sharks are better than the Lightning squad that won it all in 2004.
“I think depth-wise, this is definitely the best team I’ve been on,” Boyle said. “You know having said that, we’re only a quarter of the way through. We have a long way to go. Playoff hockey as we all know is totally different.
“When it’s all said and done, I’ll be able to look back and maybe make comparisons. But we had a pretty good team in ’04. We stepped it up to the next level in the playoffs. Until we get there, until we do that with the Sharks, it remains to be seen.”
San Jose has been a force in the regular season the last few years but that hasn’t translated into playoff success. The Sharks, who lost to Calgary in the 2004 Western Conference final, have been unable to make it past the second round of the post-season the last three years.
The team also acquired Brad Lukowich in the Boyle trade and signed another veteran defenceman, Rob Blake, last summer. Boyle said he thinks the added experience will come in handy this spring.
“For me I think the most important part is just to be calm out there, just to show some poise,” Boyle said. “If I can be like that out there, hopefully that will reflect on some of the other guys. I think a lot of people panic in the playoffs and for good reason.
“But I think you do need to have a calming aspect out there. Hopefully myself, Blake and Brad Lukowich can bring that in.”