As much press as Joe Thornton has received for his evolution as a player the last two seasons (including from this very site), another of the Sharks' elder statesmen has also seen his role radically transformed over the same span of time. When he first arrived from Tampa Bay, Dan Boyle played with fellow ex-Bolt Brad Lukowich on what was essentially the team's third pairing from a matchups perspective, with Boyle heavily sheltered to the tune of a negative quality of competition rating (meaning he almost exclusively faced opposing bottom-six forwards) and a 56% offensive zone start rate.
As Rob Blake aged and finally retired, Boyle was increasingly used with Douglas Murray as the team's shutdown pairing, a role the two were used in for pretty much the entirety of the 2010-11 season, before finally being paired with Vlasic this year as both defensemen finished top 30 league-wide in quality of competition among blueliners. It's impressive that a d-man in his thirties was willing and able to go from a power play specialist with a protected role at evens to playing some of the toughest minutes in the league. It's even more impressive that he's, for the most part, kicked ass in those minutes. Major kudos are due to Todd McLellan for assessing that Boyle would be capable of handling an increased role on the blueline, even if his hand was forced a bit by Blake's retirement and Christian Ehrhoff's departure.
Boyle was hampered at the start of the year by an injury that he later revealed was a broken foot he unbelievably played through. In retrospect, and even at the time, it was pretty clear that #22 wasn't the Boyle of old for about the first two months of the season, as his limited mobility predictably had a severe effect on his defense in transition and his zone exits seemed far less successful than usual. Over the season's first 16 games, Boyle posted a Fenwick% of just 49.8%, fourth-worst on the team at the time. For the remainder of the season, Boyle's Fenwick% was an impressive 54.2%, eighth-best (and second on the blueline) over that span.
While he's obviously integral to the Sharks' 5v5 game, where Boyle shines brighest is on the power play. It's very easy to make the argument that no defenseman in the NHL is a better power play quarterback than Boyle. Since his first season as a Shark in 2008, no player in the league has been on the ice for more shots on goal per 60 minutes of 5v4 time than Boyle while former Shark Ehrhoff is the only defenseman in the league who has been on the ice for more goals per 60 at 5v4 since '08. There's obviously more at play than Boyle alone as McLellan arriving in San Jose at the same time Boyle did certainly contributed to the Sharks going from a mediocre man-advantage unit to hands down the best in the league but Boyle once again led all defensemen in 5v4 SF/60 in 11-12 and was behind only Shea Weber, Kris Letang, Filip Kuba and Ryan Suter in 5v4 GF/60.
Dan Boyle Statistical Overview
|Season||GP||TOI/60||Corsi Rel QoC||DZone%||Corsi Rel||PDO||P/60|
|2011-2012||81||19.26 (2nd)||1.199 (1st)||45.8% (5th)||+1.7 (4th)||998 (4th)||1.12 (1st)|
|2010-2011||76||19.00 (1st)||0.668 (1st)||50.2% (5th)||-1.2 (5th)||1002 (3rd)||0.91 (1st)|
|2009-2010||76||18.33 (1st)||0.739 (3rd)||48.2% (7th)||+11.2 (1st)||1008 (5th)||1.16 (1st)|
|2010-2011||77||17.04 (2nd)||-0.184 (5th)||43.9% (7th)||+8.5 (1st)||986 (5th)||0.91 (2nd)|
Rankings are among defensemen who appeared in at least 40 games that season; 7 qualified each year.
FTF Grade: A-. I'm just not sure how much more you can really ask for from Boyle. He outscored and outshot elite competition at even-strength, the Sharks were once again the most dangerous power play in the NHL with Boyle at the forefront and he even had a role on the penalty kill although, like everyone else, his results there weren't great. It's probably telling enough that, despite carrying a $6.6mil/yr cap hit, you rarely hear Boyle discussed as significantly overpaid. If anything, he's probaly one of the Sharks' better value contracts with all of the effective ice time McLellan and co. are able to get out of him year in and year out. The only concern with Boyle's game is, at 35, how much longer he can keep this up.