Following a recent morning skate, San Jose Sharks
defenseman Brad Lukowich
sat back on the bench in front of his stall, glanced to his right and smiled.
"The acquisition of Dan Boyle
was a definite Catch-22 for the organization."
Lukowich's play on words amused Boyle, since not only does he wear No. 22, but is proving to be quite the catch for Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson.
Boyle and fellow veteran defenseman Rob Blake
certainly have been key contributors who have helped stabilize the defensive end for coach Todd McLellan
and two-time All-Star goalie Evgeni Nabokov
. As a result, the Sharks boast the NHL's top record at 22-3-2, and take a 9-0-1 streak into Thursday's game with the Anaheim Ducks
Boyle, who originally signed with the Florida Panthers
as an undrafted free agent in 1998, has worked for everything he has achieved in 10 NHL seasons. He played collegiately at Miami (Ohio), where he was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame, and won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning
"I did everything I had to do in college," Boyle said of being passed over in the NHL Entry Draft. "I thought I had the numbers and I did everything I could to get drafted, but you have to stay mentally tough. You see friends and other guys in the League getting drafted and it's tough on one's psyche. But you just need to be strong and believe in yourself and you need to try and find a way to somehow get your foot in the door. That's what Florida gave me when they signed me, but then it's a matter of making the best of the situation."
Following his stellar collegiate career, including a school record for career assists (107) by a defenseman, Boyle played 129 games over parts of four seasons with Florida, scoring 10 goals and 39 points, and was traded to Tampa Bay in January 2002, for a fifth-round selection in the 2003 Entry Draft.
"Getting that opportunity is tough, but then making the best of it is even harder," Boyle said. "Obviously, Tampa was really where I got to play, but if I wasn't given that opportunity to sign that deal in Florida than who knows where I'd be? You just need someone to believe in you and I had one scout in Florida that did that. He pretty much begged for them to give me a tryout and I'm just thankful I was able to make him look good, I guess."
Now in San Jose, Boyle is taking it to the next level.
"They brought in guys on defense who have won a Cup, and there's the experience factor as well, but I think for the most part, our goaltending and the forwards getting back have played a huge role for us," Boyle said. "Defense and goalies sometimes get too much credit when things are going well defensively, but the forwards are a huge part and they've done a great job in coming back.
"We'll take the hits back there so long as the forwards help us get the puck out. That's our mentality and so far it's worked."
The additions of Blake and Lukowich, who departed Tampa Bay with Boyle on July 4, have done wonders for a team that has yielded 2.37 goals per game, the fourth-best mark in the League. The club is killing penalties at an 83.6-percent efficiency through 27 games and stands atop the League with 46 points.
"Defense is all about commitment and our staff has been trying to get the guys to buy into that a little bit more," McLellan said. "We need to play good around our own net. Killing penalties is all about playing aggressive and that starts with winning faceoffs and getting up ice."
There's no question Boyle, Blake and Lukowich have fit nicely in this winning equation.
"Blakey is so solid and Boyle skates like the wind," said Sharks center Joe Thornton
. "They're explosive. They're going to be a huge difference for our team; two defensemen that can play 25-30 minutes a game and important minutes."
Boyle is second on the team behind defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic
(24:26), playing an average of 23:28 a game; Blake is third at 21:40.
"You're living in the moment and I don't believe in waiting for tomorrow or resting or that type of stuff," said McLellan. "If the moment presents itself that Dan Boyle
or Rob Blake
should be on the ice and playing a little bit more, then we go there.
Boyle doesn't mind averaging just over 23 minutes a game, which is much less than the 27-plus minutes he averaged in Tampa Bay the previous two seasons.
"I'm playing a little less than I have in year's past so I actually feel a little bit fresher down the stretch," Boyle said. "I hope that will benefit me over the long haul. Honestly, I just go out there every shift as if it's my last. I just want to try and make something happen; try and help this team win hockey games. So, really, there's nothing different that I do from one shift to the next."
"Let's not forget, the go-to people want to be out there," McLellan said. "They don't want you to manage their minutes, they want more. That said, we also have to be aware that fatigue and injuries come into play, so we'll manage it from that perspective."
Lukowich knows Boyle will provide quality minutes when needed.
"He just makes everyone better when you're on the ice with him," Lukowich said. "He sees the ice so well and he likes to jump up and I'm one of those guys who likes to stay home, so we complement each other in that aspect. I just tell him to go and do his thing and I do my best to make sure I can take care of our end."
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org.