Friday, July 4, 2008

Skating on into the San Jose Sunset

The light is dimming on the Dan Boyle Era here in the TBA. Rumors began swirling around like storm clouds during the madness that is the beginning of the free agency period. With OK Hockey signing every available forward they could the payroll blew by their self appointed $48 million cap and has come to rest slightly above the NHL mandated $56 million cap. After the binging it was time to begin the purge.

Boyle is cursed with owning the largest contract by a member of the Lightning not named Vinny Lecavalier. The fact that OK Hockey had supposedly signed off on that deal has suddenly become a mute point. He’s also a valuable commodity. Puck moving defensemen are a rare asset in the new NHL. Which is of course why the 31 year old is getting $6.67 million over the next six years.

The rumors grew louder once Brian Campell signed with Chicago. The number one defensive free agent was off the market and several teams were left wanting. The Senators, Flyers, Thrashers and Sharks all became potential dance partners for the Lightning.

As reports surfaced on Thursday that the Lightning had officially asked Boyle to waive his No Trade Clause Ottawa seemed a likely dance partner. They needed a defenseman, they had salary cap room and a player the Bolts would like in return in Andrej Meszaros and Boyle was originally from the Ottawa area. That possibility, however, died at the hands of Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray who stated that the Boyle deal was “too rich for the Senators” according to an article in the Ottawa Citizen.

Atlanta, an interdivision foe, seemed an unlikely destination. Boyle seemed to relish sticking it to his former team (the Florida Panthers) and would probably do the same against the Lightning. Making another deal with Philadelphia seemed to be overkill as the two teams have seemingly made 864 deals in the past 10 years.

That left San Jose. After taking a night to sleep on it TSN reports that Boyle agreed to be traded to the Sharks Saturday morning. In exchange for Boyle and hard-rocking defenseman Brad Lukowich the Lightning would receive Matt Carle, a prospect and a 1st round and 4th round pick. Carle is the centerpiece of the deal, a 23 year old defender in Boyle’s mold. Getting back 2 picks would also give Ryan Malone’s dad something to do as head of Lightning scouting department.

Once this deal is consummated, TSN reports it’s only pending paperwork, the Dan Boyle Era will be officially over. Boyle joined the Lightning in January of 2002, plucked from the Florida Panthers for a 5th round draft pick. He had spent two unhappy seasons in Miami playing for a coach, Mike Keenan, that he “couldn’t stand to look at”.

His arrival in Tampa Bay signaled a changing of the tide in the area. No longer were lumbering statues securing the Lightning blue line. Boyle would be a key component in the build up to the Stanley Cup winning team of 2004. His ability to move the puck out of the defensive zone set the pace for Coach Tortorella’s “Safe is Death” style of play. His 67 goals in a Lightning uniform are a team record for defenseman.

The offense he provided offset any liability he posed on defense. Not everyone needs to be a rugged, hard hitting defense first player. The fact that Boyle could skate the puck up the ice allowed Lecavalier and Marty St Louis to surge forward and get set up in the offensive zone. That’s an element that the Bolts will be missing unless Carle can return to his 2006-07 form that saw him score 11 goals and add 31 assists. Paul Ranger, who would be the de facto number one member of the blue line, is able to move the puck more by passing than carrying it down the ice himself.

It’s always a sad day when a fan-favorite has to move on. The new ownership seems hell-bent on totally renovating the team that was built under the Feaster/Tortorella regime. By the time its done it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Lecavalier as the only remaining link to the Stanley Cup team. The lack of Feaster’s name in any report seem to indicate that the embattled GM is on his way out. With his removal the OK Hockey takeover will be complete. Will it be for the better? That’s still to be determined. At least there will always be the memories of Boyle zooming up the ice with the puck on his stick and his head up surveying his options. Deciding that he had no better options he kicked it into a seemingly higher gear and weave his way to the net. With a quick flick of the wrist the puck would be behind the opposing goaltender.

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