Dan Boyle broke his foot against Minnesota on November 10, but only the San Jose Sharks and Boyle's family knew that fact. In the month that followed, he had no goals, one assist and a minus-six rating in 12 games.
During that time, there were numerous calls for him to be traded, including from many of my colleagues here. He is washed up, he has lost a step, he is not good in his own end...
Never mind that Boyle leads the team in ice time and shots on goal, is second in assists, third in blocked shots and tied for fourth in plus-minus. Never mind that he was second in the league last year in ice time and had one of the best seasons of his career—he has obviously suddenly become terrible.
Fans often overreact to slumps without considering the potential causes. Fortunately, teams tend to be much more patient and faithful in the players they have chosen, because it pays off. In his last 14 games, Boyle has two goals, 10 assists and a plus-13 rating.
Thus, we found out that Boyle is indeed still one of the elite defencemen in the world. And his three goals, 19 assists and a plus-18 rating in the 28 games in which he has not had a broken foot have silenced his critics and showed how tough he is.
Toughness in hockey is often measured by one's penalty minutes, but that is a better measure for goons than tough guys. Not everyone is or should be a fighter, particularly if they are as skilled as Boyle.
Sometimes it is measured in physicality or hits, something the smallest player on the team is unlikely to excel in. Boyle ranks 11th on the team but is within six hits of all but six teammates, showing he has that element to his game, as well.
But nothing speaks of toughness more than playing through an injury without disclosing it, much less using it as an excuse. Especially one that hampers the very foundation of your play.
"My game is skating and I was definitely a step behind for many of those games," Boyle told David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News in his Working the Corners blog. "It’s a factor. I don’t want to sit here and make excuses...I slipped up the other night,” he said. “I came off the ice and I was still in the game and I wasn’t thinking."
So with the All-Star Game upon us, this got me thinking—who would start for the Sharks all-time tough guy team? What elite players also show the kind of leadership and accountability to be able to play through injury?