SAN JOSE — Two teams learned firsthand that Dan Boyle was a difficult player to replace.
San Jose Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer coached the Florida Panthers six-and-a-half years after they traded the defenseman to the Tampa Bay Lightning.Even then, the Panthers still missed him, DeBoer said.
“I know they were kicking themselves,” DeBoer joked.
Martin St. Louis had similar feelings when Boyle was traded to the San Jose Sharks in 2008. Boyle and St. Louis played together for six seasons in Tampa Bay, and won a Stanley Cup together in 2004. St. Louis said he missed Boyle as soon as he was traded.
“I would watch what you were doing in San Jose, and I was like ‘why? Why? Why is he not doing this here,” St. Louis said.
By the time Boyle was traded to San Jose, he was no stranger to being overlooked. As a 5-foot-9, 180 pound defenseman in an era where size dominated the blueline, he was undrafted, eventually signing as a free agent with the Panthers after a strong college career at Miami-Ohio.
Boyle had been told previously that it was unlikely he’d ever play in the NHL. But, after going undrafted and playing so well in college, he said those feelings stuck with him throughout his career.
“I definitely have a chip on my shoulder, and I probably always will,” Boyle said. “That’s what made me me, and allowed me to have the career that I had.”
The career that he had is now officially over. Boyle, the Sharks’ highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history, announced his retirement Wednesday afternoon at the SAP Center. Evgeni Nabokov, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton were among the group of his former teammates that attended in-person, while St. Louis and Boyle’s former coaches John Tortorella and Craig Ramsay called in to pay their respects.
Boyle finished his career with 605 points, good for 35th all-time among defensemen. He was among the league’s best defensemen for a decade, scoring 40 or more points seven teams from 2002-03 to 2012-13. He was a two-time all-star, and won a gold medal with Canada during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
His 44 points in his final two NHL seasons with the New York Rangers was the lowest two-season output since the 2000-1 and 2001-2 seasons, but he still posted positive possession numbers relative to his team. He said the decision to retire was not based on how he felt physically.
“If I wanted to, I feel like I could still play and contribute,” Boyle said. “But mentally, I just got burnt out.”
Boyle retires as the game looks much different than when he first played in the NHL. While big blueliners are still valued, skilled, undersized defensemen are not necessarily the exception to the rule. Six (Erik Karlsson, Kris Letang, Mark Giordano, Drew Doughty, P.K. Subban, and Tyson Barrie) of the top 15 highest-scoring defensemen this past season were listed as 6’0” or shorter. Doughty and Letang both told Boyle they emulated him growing up, he said.
“A 5’9’’, 180 pound defenseman twenty years ago was an absolute ‘no-no,’” Boyle said. “You’re certainly seeing tons more today. Hopefully I’ve had a little part in that.”
Boyle was not the first undersized defenseman to have success, as players like Brian Leetch and Brian Rafalski enjoyed long NHL careers. But, like those two, Boyle was ahead of his time. He’s representative of where the game is headed, and helped change what scouts and coaches looked for in a successful defenseman, according to Pete DeBoer.
“I think he came up in a time when he was surrounded by trees on the ice,” DeBoer said. “He found a way. I think he might even be a better player over the next ten years if he started now.”
Now, Boyle begins retirement back in the area he and his family fell in love with when he was traded to the Sharks. He said his family is building a house in Los Gatos, and he’s already enjoying being able to take his two daughters to and from school.
He said he and his family knew they’d come back to the Bay Area, even the “amicable” end to his time in teal when the Sharks opted not to re-sign him after the 2013-14 season. When the Sharks made it to the Stanley Cup final this past spring, Boyle may have wanted the Sharks to miss him, just as his previous teams had.
But when Joonas Donskoi scored the overtime winner in game 3, Boyle said he jumped out of his seat.
“I knew when he scored that goal, and I jumped up, I was pulling for them all the way,” Boyle said.