Bob McKenzie just broke the news that the Tampa Bay Lightning have traded Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Byron Froese and a second round pick in 2017.
Boyle, 32, will solidify depth down the middle for the Maple Leafs and turn them into a four-line team for the first time in perhaps a decade. At 6’7, he certainly checks off the “big center” box, but he has also been sliding up and down the lineup for the Lightning this season, playing on the wing and spending a little time on the powerplay (1:36/game).
Boyle has been mentioned among the best fourth line centers in the league for the last several years. He’s put up 15, 12 and 12 goals in the past three seasons and has posted 52.9%, 50.8%, 50.7% in the faceoff circle. He’s having his best ever year on the dot at 53.0% this season.
Boyle has also had his best season in terms of the possession game with a +1.84 CF% relative to his teammates — fifth among Lightning players. His most common linemate at 5v5 has been Valtteri Filppula as he’s spent more time higher in the lineup on the left wing than he has in his traditional 4C role lately due to injuries in Tampa.
Boyle nearly signed with the Maple Leafs two summers ago but opted for Tampa instead, so it is an organization he had an interest in becoming a part of and now that’s been made into a reality. Boyle has other ties to the organization: He is a disciple of Barb Underhill and credited her helping him carve out an NHL job when he was having difficulty cracking the New York Rangers lineup due to challenges with his skating.
Whether this is a full-on rental or if the Leafs have designs on signing the pending UFA — the contract would be tricky to get right given he is 32 years old and, ultimately, a bottom-six forward — remains to be seen. But it certainly seems to signal the Leafs aren’t content with just “seeing what happens” with the playoff chase or resting their laurels on the growth of the young players either way. Boyle is a veteran of 603 regular season games and 100 playoff games, having gone on four deep playoff runs over his career, including two Conference Finals and two Stanley Cup Finals. That gives him the most playoff appearances of any player in the league since 2010, according to Mark Masters.
Definite belief in the Leafs organization that if they can make playoffs & play OTT/BOS/MTL they can make round 2. Boyle move supports that.
— Anthony Petrielli (@APetrielli) February 27, 2017
The Maple Leafs will still have a second round pick in 2017 — they had two — while Byron Froese didn’t appear to be much more than an AHL depth piece during his time with the NHL team last season (that said, he is still on the younger side at 25 and was having a great year with the Marlies).
The price seems even more reasonable in light of the Martin Hanzal (plus Ryan White) return in the trade to Minnesota yesterday (a first round pick, a second, and a conditional fourth), although Boyle is a few years older and has been slightly less productive in recent seasons.
This addition should bump Ben Smith — statistically one of the poorest 4Cs in the league –out of the team’s 12 forward regulars and replaces him with a quality, versatile 4C capable of producing in offensively, bringing size, winning key draws, sliding onto the wing, and chipping in on both sides of special teams. Boyle will be an instant coach’s pet for Mike Babcock.
On the radio earlier today, Bob McKenzie suggested there is a desire among Leafs management to reward their group and give their young team every chance of making the playoffs this season in order to gain valuable postseason experience. The Leafs, it appears, are going for it.
With the 4C hole covered off, it remains to be seen if the Leafs will address their other glaring need on the blue line in some shape or form before 3 p.m. on Wednesday.
Boyle is one of the best teammates I ever played with. Valuable and versatile on the ice and great for the room. The kids get a good leader.
— Patrick O'Sullivan (@realPOSULLIVAN) February 27, 2017