Dan Boyle has played 16 years in the National Hockey League, many of them as one of the league's top offensive defensemen of his era. Now at the age of 39 and in his second season with the Rangers, Boyle is no longer the top pair All Star defensemen he was in his younger days, but instead is looking to be a supporting piece to the team's Stanley Cup puzzle.
"I'm 39 now and I don't know how much longer I've got," Boyle admitted recently to BlueshirtsUnited.com. "As far as the team's window being open (to win a Cup), it certainly is, but mine is closing up pretty quickly. So I'm going to give it everything I have because you don't know how many more kicks at the can you're going to have."
A year ago Boyle was beset by a combination of injuries and illness during the regular season, limiting him to 65 games in his inaugural campaign with the Rangers. He scored nine goals, tied with Kevin Klein for tops among the team's d-men, with three of those coming on the power play and three holding up as game-winners. Boyle added 11 assists to finish with 20 points.
However in the playoff Boyle's production picked up. He finished fifth on the squad with ten points (3-7-10) in 19 post-season games, second most among Rangers defensemen. As the Rangers pushed closer to a possible berth in the Stanley Cup Final, Boyle became more of a factor in the games as evidenced by the six points he recorded in the Eastern Conference Final, a series the Blueshirts ultimately lost in seven games.
"Hopefully this season starts off like it ended last year," said Boyle. "I think I was playing my best hockey down the stretch and in the playoffs. It was a combination of being healthy and comfortable with the style of play. I'd really like to continue with how I finished up."
Falling short of reaching the Stanley Cup Final haunted Boyle--a 2004 Cup winner with the Lightning--during the summer. He called losing in the conference final to his former team "a missed golden opportunity" and stated that it provided even more motivation for this upcoming season.
"I held on to it for a while," admitted Boyle, who has appeared in 1,019 NHL regular season games and another 126 in the playoffs during his career. "I was stunned. Game Seven at home, no place you'd rather be. Going home that night there was just disbelief. Frustration then set in for a few weeks, followed by a determination to get back there again this season."
Now Boyle is a week away from beginning his 17th NHL season and taking another run at picking up another championship ring. Admittedly his pre-season play has been inconsistent, but he does know at the same time that his coach has his back.
"It's all about performance, there's no doubt there, but when a guy's been in the league as long as (Boyle) has, he's going to get the benefit of the doubt," said Alain Vigneault. "For a guy who's been through as many camps as he has, I don't put as much stock into (results). He's working extremely hard in practice to get himself ready. Come October 7th (Opening Night in Chicago) with two points on the line, I am very confident he'll be ready."
Boyle and Keith Yandle both will not play in tonight's pre-season finale against the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden--Dylan McIlrath and Raphael Diaz, battling for the team's seventh spot on defense, will both play instead--but on Opening Night the Rangers Top Six will be intact and ready to go. Boyle will assume his spot in the Top Six, likely alongside Marc Staal, while Yandle pairs with Klein, and the top pairing will feature Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi.
"It's a good mixture of young and old, good mixture of defensive-minded guys and more offensive-minded guys, and I think you need all of that," Boyle said of the Rangers Top Six. "It's solid; and it seems like there are a few young guys that are coming up and knocking on the door, too. Looks like the organization is pretty solid all around on the back end."