With the opening of training camp less than a month away, we thought it would be timely to look back at last year’s offseason additions. The Lightning acquired six players in 2014 before the start of the 2014-15 season: Jonathan Marchessault, Jason Garrison, Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, Evgeni Nabokov and Brenden Morrow. Additionally, Braydon Coburn joined the Lightning late in a trade deadline deal that added depth and stability to the blue line. We’ll review each move individually and analyze their impact on Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup Final playoff run.
Measurables: 6-foot-7, 244 pounds
Acquired: Signed as a free agent on July 1, 2014, to a three-year deal
What was said then: The Tampa Bay Lightning were in the market for a veteran center after trading Nate Thompson to Anaheim for a 4th- and a 7th-round 2015 draft pick 24 hours before the start of summer free agency. A day later, the Lightning nabbed free agent Brian Boyle from the New York Rangers. Boyle was a workhorse for the Rangers, playing all 82 regular season games in three of his previous four years in the Big Apple. He also brought plenty of postseason experience to a relatively young Tampa Bay lineup, having appeared in 58 playoff games during his five seasons with the Rangers and helping New York reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2014.
2014-15 stats: 16 goals, 10 assists (26 points) in 107 games (playoffs included).
2014-15 impact: Considerable.
Boyle scored 15 goals in his debut Lightning season, the second-most in his eight-year NHL career. He added nine assists and finished the season as Tampa Bay’s 12th leading scorer. Boyle scored five game-winning goals during the regular season, tied for third-most on the team.
But his greatest impact during Tampa Bay’s run to the Stanley Cup Final could be found in his considerable experience, his physicality and his durability.
Boyle centered Tampa Bay’s fourth line for most of the season and became an immediate force in the middle. He provided a constant, steadying presence and was a mentor for talented young linemates J.T. Brown, Jonathan Drouin and Cedric Paquette.
Boyle played all 82 regular season games and missed just one playoff game. He averaged 12 minutes ice time, a number that increased to 13:40 in the postseason.
Boyle was second on the Lightning for hits (128) and was Tampa Bay’s second-leading faceoff winner at 49 percent.
Boyle’s long reach and anticipation at the top of the Lightning penalty kill severely disrupted the opposition’s power play all season long. The Bolts’ penalty kill ranked tied for seventh in the NHL (83.7 percent), and Boyle was the team’s best penalty killer.
Also, behind closed doors, Boyle was a respected leader in the Lightning locker room, his words carrying ample weight considering his experience and team-first mentality, and he was one of a handful of players who rotated as alternated captains throughout the season.
2015-16 outlook: With back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Final, the 30-year-old Boyle has played a lot of hockey over the past two seasons: 107 games a year, 214 combined. One would expect his body to break down at some point, but Boyle is a workout beast and keeps his body in pristine shape.
The Lightning have Boyle under contract for two more seasons. His role should remain relatively unchanged.
Tampa Bay will once again lean on Boyle heavily to lead the penalty kill. He’ll be a bottom six center expected to bridge young prospects with established veterans to form a cohesive line.
And he’ll be counted on to bring leadership and provide a veteran voice to, hopefully, another lengthy Lightning playoff run.