SAN JOSE, Calif. — For five years, the Lightning have tried to fill the void left behind when former Tampa Bay ownership dealt defenseman Dan Boyle to San Jose on July 4, 2008.
That search still continues.
Boyle was a main component of the Lightning’s turnaround from league doormat to championship team in 2004, part of the four cornerstones that also included current Tampa Bay captain Marty St. Louis, Brad Richards and Vinny Lecavalier.
“He was a big part of our offense but I think the thing about Boiler is that he’s really tough to play against defensively, too,” St. Louis said. “He’s not a big guy but he’s annoying in the corners, he’s got quick hands and his stick is always in there, and he digs and he makes it hard on the opponents. No doubt he was a big part of our transition.
“When Boiler got traded I think we used 22 defensemen that year for us. I don’t think you can replace a Dan Boyle.’’
Boyle, now in his sixth season with the Sharks, never held back his feelings about being traded a short time after signing a six-year, $40 million extension prior to the trade deadline in 2008. Though the bitterness of how the situation was handled by that ownership group has faded through the years, his memories of Tampa Bay’s championship run remain strong nearly 10 years later.
“I appreciated it so much that it’s hard to appreciate it more (now),’’ Boyle said. “I wasn’t one of those guys that was 21 and didn’t really know what I was getting into. I knew how hard it was to not only make it into the NHL for one, but to play and win. But it’s been 10 years and it’s kind of flew by. It’s been pretty fast.”
St. Louis, the only remaining player from the 2004 championship team, and Boyle both rose to prominence through similar paths. Both were undrafted and considered undersized. Both played four years of college hockey before signing free agent contracts with other organizations — St. Louis with Calgary and Boyle with Florida — before being given up on. Both wound up with the Lightning and went on to become All-Star caliber players as well as champions.
“I see a lot of him in me and vice versa. We are both fierce competitors and we had to fight our way to get here,’’ Boyle said. “Marty is the ultimate competitor, I respect him so much. His accomplishments speak for themselves. He’s an amazing hockey player and to see what he is doing still is not surprising to me because I know how hard he works. He’s just awesome. He’ll be in the Hall of Fame for sure and he deserves it.’’
Just as St. Louis’ success opened doors for undersized players to make it in the NHL, St. Louis said Boyle did the same for smaller defensemen.
“For Boiler it was probably even tougher because playing defense, there were not any smaller players,’’ St. Louis said. “Now I think he might’ve been one of the guys that helped buck the trend to bring speedy puck movers who will battle you defensively as well. I think he is definitely one of the best.’’
Boyle has been slowed this season from the effects of a concussion suffered when he was hit into the boards by St. Louis forward Max Lapierre that kept him off the ice for two weeks. But even now, at the age of 37, when Boyle is at the top of his game, he continues to be a key cog for the Sharks.
“Dan can control the speed of our game. He can either make it fast or slow it down and we like when it goes fast with him,’’ San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. “He’s a very good offensive player with the ability to jump in as a rover from the blue line in the offensive zone. He runs a very good power play most nights. So when you take those characteristics and you put them in order like that, that’s a pretty darn good player and we are fortunate to have him.’’