Dan Boyle remains the best Shark on the blue line
Start with those I advocate keeping? Those with the highest grade? The most points? Salary?
Because statistics are generally sorted by points, it made it easier to match that format, making my first analysis Joe Thornton.
But one thing I have learned is that it is important to be flexible. When a recent debate with a colleague focused on Dan Boyle, it made more sense to present his analysis ahead of schedule than steal my own thunder by leaking my analysis on comments. (It certainly seemed better than biting my tongue!)
Note: The format for the entire series is established in a team overview immediately preceding the Thornton piece.
At 35, he remains one of the best-skating and highest-endurance defencemen worldwide. He logged more minutes than all but six NHL players over the season and also led his blue line in assists, points and, surprisingly, penalty minutes.
It is human nature to see a small, fast and skilled defenceman and assume he cannot defend. The moments that fit that assumption stick out more than the ones that counter it.
But I have news for you: Dan Boyle is among the best defenders on this unit.
Not just because he has the speed to recover from pinching and get in the way. Because his savvy allows him to make the key play at the key time, and his experience has made him more versatile.
Only Brent Burns had more takeaways. Only Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Douglas Murray had more blocked shots.
Boyle was unparalleled in avoiding pressure in the Sharks end. No one on the team sets higher standards or has achieved more success.
Moreover, he is as tough as any of them, not because penalties prove anything: Boyle was only fifth in hits, but he had just 10 fewer than the blue line's second-best hitter, Brent Burns. He played 12 games with a broken foot and continued to block shots.
During that period he struggled, scoring just one point and finishing minus-six. Because there was no disclosure of the injury until after the fact, conclusions he was washed up were quickly refuted.
Only Erik Karlsson and Dustin Byfuglien scored more points per game from the blue line than Boyle did when healthy. Only 14 players had a better plus/minus rating than he did when not slowed by the injury.
For the season, his assist-to-giveaway ratio (.59) was fifth on the Sharks among players with even five points. But it was first on the blue line by almost 40 percent over Vlasic. Boyle's hits, blocked shots and takeaways added up to the third highest total on the team.
There is no doubt that offence is the first thing on Dan Boyle's mind.
He will try to slip the puck through traffic. Despite his commendable assist-to-giveaway ratio, he was third on the team and 18th in the league in giveaways. He also has had a few shots blocked out past him, creating odd-man rushes.
And he gives up even more of them jumping up into the play. This leaves his partner to cover and leads to odd-man rushes.
But that is what the San Jose Sharks need him to do. It is what he does best and what they traded Matt Carle, Ty Wishart and a top pick for.
More to the point, it is why Boyle is entering the last two years of a six-year, $40 million contract. That does make him the 27th-highest paid NHL player, meaning the Sharks will have trouble moving a player that will remain on the payroll until the age of 37.
If the San Jose Sharks need the cap room to go after either Ryan Suter or Shea Weber (the Nashville Predators are unlikely to be able to afford both), they should be willing to waive Dan Boyle. No matter how able he remains, his best days are behind him, and the Preds' blue-line tandem's best days lie ahead of them.
But there are better players to dump to clear up that kind of space. Just because he is no bargain and is bound to decline at least a little each year does not mean he is not earning his pay. There is a reason he has logged top-10 minutes across the NHL two seasons in a row.
When you are your team's best offensive threat from the blue line and finish in its top three in all but one defensive category, you are a true No. 1 defenceman. Those guys are hard to find, and the ones who are leaders are rarer still.
One can give such a player no less than an A-minus.