San Jose Sharks Blue Line Biggest Change in 2013

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San Jose Sharks Blue Line Biggest Change in 2013
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Play on the back end was the reason the 2013 San Jose Sharks survived past Memorial Day

Since the 2008-09 season, the blue line of the San Jose Sharks has been defined by Dan Boyle. Maybe the whole team has.

They have fired the puck from the point on the power play and advanced it from their own end better than most. The team has been among the league leaders in both shots on goal and goals scored in each of those four seasons.

Boyle scored more points (213) than any other player on an NHL blue line over that time. The only reason he fell to a low of 48 points in 81 games for 2011-12 is that he played with a broken foot for more than a month, causing him to go scoreless in 11 of 12 games.

Even though Boyle played his best when it mattered most (34 points in 39 Stanley Cup playoff games from 2009 through 2011), the Sharks did not. Their potent power play would dry up, and they would be unable to score enough to win games after the second round.

In the 2012 Western Conference quarterfinal series with the St. Louis Blues, even Boyle could not manage more than two assists. San Jose scored just eight goals in five games, its quickest playoff departure in team history.

The trouble is, they were in the middle of a change. They had added Brent Burns and lost forward depth, but did not know how to win enough low-scoring games. They remained a big team but lost too much speed.

Instead of going back to the familiar, they committed even more. The Sharks added Brad Stuart and transitioned to a team built around a shut-down defense from the net out. 

It was too much. They eventually had to move Burns up to forward, shed some of their slower defenders and add feistiness. But in the process, they became a very gritty team capable of blocking every passing and shooting lane for even the best offenses.

For no one is the transition to shot blocking more evident than the offensive-minded Boyle.

His skating allows him to make up for pinching in. His skills make it pay off and he is judicious in taking those chances. When the situation calls for defending, he is among the best, finishing in the top-50 in block shots each of the last two seasons.

Nevertheless, the 36-year old's minutes did get cut with the condensed 2013 NHL season. After being in the top-10 in either minutes per game or total minutes for the season in the previous two years, he finished outside of the top-40 in both during the regular season, in part because he was not killing as many penalties.

He was 49th in minutes per game during the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs—less than a minute per game more than forward Patrick Marleau. He was still leader of the unit (three of the five goals and five of the 14 assists), but by the playoffs he had his best support since 2009.

Scott Hannan and Jason Demers are linked by name to their evaluations. Brent Burns will be evaluated on that site as a forward. The rest of the blue line to play in even 12 minutes during the 2013 NHL season is examined here.

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