The San Jose Sharks currently find themselves holding on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but only six points separates them from the last-placed Colorado Avalanche.
With an aging veteran core and a team that has gone just 6-10-6 since the start of February (including just three regulations wins in the last 24 games), Sharks general manager Doug Wilson should take advantage of the valuable trade assets he has and use them to acquire some young NHL players, prospects and/or draft picks for the future.
One of those assets is 36-year-old defenseman Dan Boyle, who is still a fantastic offensive defenseman. According to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun, there's at least one Eastern Conference team that might want to make a deal for San Jose's best defenseman.
The New York Rangers have been on the lookout for a top-four, right-handed defenseman and a source told me Tuesday that the Blueshirts have interest in veteran Dan Boyle from the Sharks. There’s an obvious connection there, with Rangers head coach John Tortorella having coached Boyle in Tampa Bay when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004.
If the Sharks put Boyle on the trade block, it wouldn't be surprising if several teams showed some interest. There's a lot of playoff contenders who need to upgrade their blue line before the April 3 trade deadline, and Boyle would be a good fit on many of these teams.
Let's look at three teams that should pursue Boyle before the trade deadline.
New York Rangers
The Marc Staal injury situation has created a need for another offensive defenseman on the Rangers blue line, and since the Blueshirts play a defensive, shot-blocking style of hockey in the playoffs, they need at least two strong pairings for the postseason.
Head coach John Tortorella also needs a powerplay quarterback who can create scoring chances offensively and hep the team's transition game.
Boyle is a perfect fit for that role because of his vision, passing skills and ability to evade the opponent's forecheck with a good first pass out of the defensive zone.
The Rangers rank 27th in goals scored and 25th in powerplay percentage, and finding a defenseman with a high level of offensive skill like Boyle would be the most effective way to improve these weaknesses.
Boyle has been the Sharks' best defenseman this season and has tallied 13 points in 27 games. He has also scored 48 or more points with 39-plus assists in four straight seasons.
The Rangers don't have a first round pick in the 2013 draft because they traded it to the Columbus Blues Jackets in the Rick Nash deal, but they do have some good prospects (Cristoval Nieves, Brandon Mashinter, Jesper Fasth) and young NHL players (J.T. Miller, Carl Hagelin) to offer the Sharks if they want to acquire Boyle.
Acquiring a veteran defenseman with a good two-way game and lots of playoff experience should be the Rangers' top priority before the deadline, and Boyle is the best target for New York to pursue.
The Boston Bruins lost Adam McQuaid to an injury during Tuesday's loss to the Winnipeg Jets, and according to general manager Peter Chiarelli, the 26-year-old defenseman could be out for up to a month.
"Adam sustained a shoulder strain and will return to Boston for further evaluation by the Bruins medical staff. It is anticipated that he may be out 3-4 weeks."
Holding on to third period leads, which was a strength of this Bruins team throughout the first half of the season, has turned into a weakness over the last few weeks. Four of the team's five regulations losses were a result of blown leads, and after going 32-0-0 when leading after two periods last season, the Bruins have now lost three times in 2013 when going into the second intermission with a lead.
At the moment, Bruins head coach Claude Julien has just one reliable defensive pairing (Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg) to use in the playoffs, which is not a good situation to be in for a team whose success is often a result of strong defense and depth.
Veteran defenseman Andrew Ference has not played well defensively this season with too many turnovers (ranks third on team in giveaways) and bad penalties, and he has not contributed much offensively with just six points in 28 games.
Rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who has played well at times, is still learning how to play in his own zone at the NHL level. He has not played well defensively over the last few weeks, and is turning the puck over too much (leads team in giveaways) to be trusted on the second pairing in the postseason.
Not only would Boyle give the Bruins another experienced blueliner for the second pairing who is capable of playing well defensively, he would also upgrade the team's mediocre powerplay.
Boston has the 22nd ranked powerplay and like the Rangers, it could use a playmaker at the blue line to generate more scoring chances.
The Bruins have a lot of good prospects (Defenseman Torey Krug, goaltender Malcom Subban and center Ryan Spooner, for example) and a young UFA in Nathan Horton to offer the Sharks in a potential deal for Boyle.
Chiarelli needs to acquire a puck-moving defenseman with Stanley Cup experience because going into the playoffs with the following pairings would not be an ideal situation.
|1||Zdeno Chara||Dennis Seidenberg||Best shut-down tandem in the NHL.|
|2||Johnny Boychuk||Dougie Hamilton||A rookie offensive defenseman on the second pairing is not something a defensive coach like Julien would find ideal.|
|3||Andrew Ference||Adam McQuaid||Ference's poor play and McQuaid's injury concerns should worry the Bruins.|
The Bruins have a number of areas to strengthen before the deadline, including the third line, but acquiring a veteran defenseman such as Boyle should be the team's top priority.
The Minnesota Wild have been one of the league's hottest teams over the last few weeks, and making a bold trade at the deadline could help them contend for the Western Conference title this season.
The Wild have won four straight games (7-3 in their last 10) and find themselves atop the Northwest Division with 36 points.
Even after the Wild signed superstar defenseman Ryan Suter to a 13-year, $98 million contract as a free agent last summer, the team still needed to add a veteran blueliner. Brett Clark (36) and Tom Gilbert (30) are the team's only defensemen over the age of 28, and no one on the Wild blue line has a Stanley Cup ring.
Boyle's leadership, playoff experience and offensive talent would be valuable additions to the Wild blue line and strengthen their roster for the postseason.
The Sharks would probably prefer to trade Boyle to the Eastern Conference to avoid playing against him, but since the Wild have arguably the best prospect pool of any team the league, they are an ideal trade partner for San Jose. Forward prospects Zack Phillips (C), Jarod Palmer (RW), Mario Lucia (LW) and defensemen Mathew Dumba (2012 first round pick) and Tyler Cuma could be players that interest the Sharks in a possible deal for Boyle.
Which team needs Boyle the most?
The Wild are one top-four veteran defenseman away from making a deep playoff run in 2013, which is why you could justify the decision to part with some talented prospects to acquire Boyle.
He has another year left on his contract with a $6.66 million salary cap hit, but his deal will expire before the Wild's best young players such as Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin need new contracts.
Acquiring Boyle would make the Wild legitimate contenders in the West during the playoffs and a team that the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks would have trouble beating in a seven-game series.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL lead writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs.