When Glen Sather, John Tortorella, and the rest of the New York Rangers’ staff decided to end their relationship with center Blair Betts last summer, there wasn’t much of a reaction from either the fanbase or the pundits. Betts, after all, was nothing more than a fourth-line center during his four-year stint on Broadway. Despite his reputation as being one of the best penalty killers in the league, replacing him couldn’t possibly be much of a challenge, or so many Ranger fans thought.
Betts’ fate with the team was sealed at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, when Sather traded a 2010 third round pick to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Brian Boyle, a former first-round pick (26rd overall) in 2003.
The 6-foot-7, 250 lb. Boyle, a native of Hingham, MA, had been earning the unflattering label of “bust,” having failed to impress during his two seasons playing for Manchester of the American Hockey League, or in his 36 games with the Kings.
Still, with the kind of size that makes any coach or general manager drools over, the Rangers felt Boyle could step in an be a useful replacement for the hard-working, respected Betts.
Unfortunately, after one season, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that the decision to replace Betts with Boyle was a successful one.
Suiting up 71 times throughout the 2009-10 season, Boyle was far from a disaster. Truth be told, however, Boyle wasn’t much of anything.
Unlike Betts, an offensively inept player who managed to make an impact defensively every time he stepped on the ice during his time as a Ranger (a trend that continued when Betts took his shot-blocking act to the Philadelphia Flyers), Boyle rarely failed to change the course of a game. He scored four goals and notched two assists, while averaging 8:25 of ice time per contest, primarily centering the fourth line or being used on the team’s secondary penalty-killing unit (usually paired with Brandon Dubinsky).
Although he was a competent penalty killer, he simply wasn’t as good as Betts. The same was true of his defensive efforts at even-strength. Most frustrating about Boyle, though, was his lack of interest in the physical side of the game.
Players with good size who fail to engage themselves physically on the ice rarely make a good impression anywhere, especially not at Madison Square Garden (hello, Marek Malik). With his height, his wide frame, and his strength, Boyle could be an imposing and intimidating figure in the middle of the ice for his club, but other than a handful of occasions, he rarely embraced such a role. Odd, seeing as how he didn’t do much of anything else to stand out.
Signed through the 2010-2011 season at a modest cap hit of $525,000, it wouldn’t be totally unexpected if Boyle were to find himself on next season’s roster. It’s equally unexpected, however, that anyone will be able to come up with a convincing case of why Boyle SHOULD be given another shot.
No, he wasn’t terrible. He was just…nothing.
With numerous grinders waiting in the wings in Hartford, perhaps the team should consider giving them a shot in training camp, not to mention any potential cheap free agent acquisitions, because Boyle was given an entire season to lock up a role for himself on this team, and he failed to do anything of the sort.
Brian Boyle Grade: C-