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Dan Boyle would not have been a candidate for this award a month ago.
During the 2011 calender year, Boyle tallied 16 points in 34 games, while accumulating a pedestrian plus-two rating. The veteran defenseman appeared to be declining. Articles were written claiming he's lost a step, calling for him to be moved and even calling into question his mental toughness.
Never mind that he's tied with Joe Thornton for most playoff points (34 in 39 games) since arriving in San Jose three years ago. Never mind that he is the best skater, passer and zone-holder on the team's blue line.
Never mind that he played through most of November with a broken foot.
On January 3rd, Boyle sat outside of the top 30 scoring defenseman in the NHL. Twelve games and 13 points later, he's up to eighth.
Dan Boyle is not declining. He's as tough as they come, both mentally and physically. He's on fire offensively despite the rest of his team being ice cold. Combine these facts with his playoff track-record, and it's already clear why Boyle is the least dispensable man in teal.
But above all else, Boyle's value is extremely practical: The Sharks are a different team with him on the ice. There's a reason he's ninth in the NHL in minutes played.
The Sharks thrive in the following areas: face-offs, puck control, size, shots on goal, offensive zone time, shots against and goals against. Dan Boyle is vital to their success in each of these categories.
Don't believe me?
Sure, Boyle never takes face-offs, but more often than not he's the guy securing the possession after his teammate wins a draw. Face-offs? Check.
Boyle's ability to stick handle, elude fore-checkers with spin moves and smoothly glide through the neutral zone is unrivaled. Puck control? Check.
The Shark's biggest defenseman, Douglas Murray, is able to play his natural size-game due to Boyle taking care of everything else when they're on the ice together. Size? Check.
Dan Boyle leads the team with 157 shots on goal due to his ability to skate east-to-west across the blue line, always finding a gap between would-be shot-blockers. When he doesn't find a gap, his sick passing skills has him second on the team in assists. Shots on goal? Check.
Boyle's puck-moving ability, lateral quickness, board-sealing ability and timing when he jumps up are imperative to the Sharks sustaining pressure. Offensive zone time? Check.
Boyle is third on the team in blocked shots, fourth in plus/minus and is excellent at clearing rebounds and moving the puck out from behind the net. Shots allowed? Goals allowed? Check. Check.
Dan Boyle is at the heart of everything San Jose does well, and his absence would spell doom more than that of any other Sharks player.
Stats: 4 G, 25 A, 29 P, plus-12, 25:43 TOI/G