A statistical look at Dan Boyle, and why Doug Wilson must improve the defense

I knew this wasn't going to be a popular topic when I began researching the article earlier this week. But when Doug Wilson resigned Niclas Wallin and then subsequently failed to add any of the top free agent defensemen on the market July 1st, I felt as if Dan Boyle's 2009-2010 needed to be looked at a bit closer. Watching him, I felt as if this season just wasn't as spectacular as his first year with the team. A day after the two year anniversary of Doug Wilson's acquisition of Dan Boyle, we'll look at the all-star defenseman's first two years in San Jose.

Now, Boyle didn't have a poor season by any means. Point wise, he scored two more in a game less. So, by basic numbers alone, he continued the strong offensive play that has defined his short career with the San Jose Sharks organization. However, when you look a bit closer, some troubling numbers become apparent.

Most troubling, and equally most obvious, was the high amount of minutes Dan Boyle skated this season. Boyle's minutes jumped from 24:46 in 2008-2009 to 26:13 in the current NHL season. Although that's not the most he's ever played (he played more than 27 minutes in his last two seasons with Tampa Bay), he was the team leader in ice time by a good four minutes this year. You would think that with the increase time, he'd score more. However, his production (minutes played per point scored) increased this season, 34:21 as opposed to 33:21 in last year.

The offensive issues aren't a big deal though, in all reality. He's an elite offensive player and his production last year was on par with his historic average. Although it decreased slightly in terms of production minutes, there's really nothing to worry about there.

Defensively, though? That's a whole 'nother story.

Dan Boyle is never going to be a defensive stopper, and we all know that. But, as the team's most played defensemen, his play in all ends is going to be magnified. Using some data from behindthenet.ca, let's take a look at Boyle's defensive play over the last two years.


Even Strength

2008-2009 2.01 1.97
2009-2010 2.76 1.85

You can see the jump there, opponents scored 0.75 goals per 60 minutes more last season when Dan Boyle was on the ice. That 2.76 is last on the team in terms of defensemen. The 1.97 scored when he's off the ice is also lowest on the team.

Add into that that Boyle wasn't even playing against the top competition (his .008 QUALCOMP was less than Blake (0.042), Murray (0.024), Vlasic (0.023), and Wallin (0.17)) , and you're painting a pretty scary picture, especially with the current state of San Jose's blueline.

Boyle's defensive numbers the year before were actually pretty good, which again leads us to believe that the high number of minutes he played (including the Olympics, as well), affected his output in all ends of the ice.

With that observation, I'm inclined to say that it would be wise to limit Dan Boyle's minutes somewhat to maximize his efficiency. With Rob Blake retiring, someone will have to make up for the minutes he played before (21:21 per game). Although Wilson brought Wallin aboard to take on some of the responsibility, we've pointed out before that he's never played more than 18:40 per game in his career, and the most he's played in the last three years was 17:47.

Look, Dan Boyle had a good year. He likely would have been an all-star (he was an Olympian) and he was one of the reasons San Jose made it to the Western Conference finals (I didn't even bring up how solid he was as a penalty killer this year). However, he regressed statistically both offensively and defensively this season, and that's a problem considering that San Jose has one of the worst defenses on paper heading into 2010-2011.

It's a problem because he's going to be playing the same amount, if not more, minutes to make up for that defense. As I've tried to point out in this article, Boyle isn't better the more minutes he plays. Scoring remains flat, and his defensive play takes a nose dive. With Evgeni Nabokov out and a tandem of Thomas Greiss and Antero Niittymaki in, the defense is going to be much more important that it has been in years past. Doug Wilson needs to bring in someone who can alleviate the pressure on Boyle, and in turn improve Boyle's defensive play and efficiency.

However, this player doesn't necessarily have to be a defensive stopper. Vlasic, Murray, and (ugh) Wallin have all shown that they can play that role relatively well. What's also needed is someone who can supplement Dan Boyle offensively and ensure that he isn't the only offensive weapon on the point... that's why Boyle receives the majority of his minutes. Paul Martin, as we have mentioned before, is someone who would have fit the bill perfectly. That's no longer an option, and the remaining high level UFA's are off the market.

Boyle led Sharks defensemen in goals both years he was with the team, with 31 goals scored over the last two years. In that same span, Blake is second with 17. After that, MEV has 9. As much as I believe that Jason Demers will develop into an offensive weapon, I don't think he'll make up for Blake's scoring next year. Vlasic is again going to be counted on to play the shutdown role (a role in which he excels), which will limit his offense. The need is there for offense from the point.

Doug Wilson is going to have a few decisions to make as the season gets closer, and his eye should be on improving the defense. Not only for the sake of his star player, but also for the sake of his team.