For the first time since making the playoffs in 2013, the Toronto Maple Leafs dove into the trade deadline and acquired an asset to strengthen their team.
In exchange for a second round pick in 2017 and Byron Froese, Toronto was able to bring in Brian Boyle and fill a hole in their center depth.
On Brian Boyle and Meeting a Need
Throughout the season, the Leafs have lacked a proper fourth line center, going through a revolving door of players that included Ben Smith, Frederik Gauthier, Peter Holland and even the aforementioned Froese for a couple of games. This is a need most fans knew about all season. Just this weekend, Tyler Bozak was injured and Smith — he of four points in 35 games — centered a scoring line against a division rival in a pivotal game.
This acquisition helps quell some of those issues. Boyle is a legitimate NHL center that will join a group that includes Nazem Kadri, Auston Matthews and Bozak, giving the Leafs four legitimate NHLers down the middle.
Throughout his career, Boyle has been a defensive zone specialist who has started 62.9% of his faceoffs in the defensive zone at even strength. Despite that, Boyle has managed to come out nearly even in shot metrics over 600+ games with a career 48.5 corsi-for percentage. In his two and a half seasons with Tampa Bay, the defensive zone starts dropped to 56.5% and his corsi-for percentage was 51.5%. He has also put up three straight seasons over 20 points and 13 goals (he’s at 13 already this season). So, in a nutshell, he can handle a heavy defensive role, break even in shot attempts, and produce some offense.
This season, largely due to Tampa Bay’s injuries, Boyle has played a different role that has driven up his value. His most common linemates have been Valtteri Filppula and Jonathan Drouin, and he’s already up over 86 minutes on the powerplay, where he has three goals and six points. He’s never even played 70 minutes on the powerplay over an entire season prior to this year. Boyle has also spent a good chunk of the season on the wing due to injuries; he’s moved up the lineup, so while his faceoff percentage is a career high 53%, he is also taking fewer faceoffs than he is accustomed to with 330 through 54 games (compared to 682 and 905 in the previous two).
All of that is to say Boyle is a solid checking center who can move up the lineup adequately, who can produce a little when called upon, and who probably had his value inflated a little bit this season.
Is that worth a second round pick?
When is a rental ‘worth it’?
We have already seen two other second rounders move around the trade deadline in what is expected to be a weaker draft – one for Patrick Eaves, the other for Ron Hainsey. The second rounder in the deal for Eaves — who is having a very good season and can complement a top-six line right now — is a conditional one that can move up to a first. There was also the Martin Hanzal trade that cost Minnesota a first, a second, and a conditional fourth, while Alex Burrows cost Ottawa a highly-touted prospect. So, in terms of the market, the value is about right.
What about the value of the pick itself? Tampa Bay will be receiving the highest of Toronto’s three second round picks – their own, San Jose’s or Ottawa’s. That’s likely to be in the 40-50 range. According to Scott Cullen’s expected NHL draft pick value, the pick will have a 35-39% chance of becoming an NHLer who plays at least 100 NHL games. So, it’s a pretty decent lottery ticket for 21 games of Brian Boyle providing center depth and another competent NHL forward.
Which leads to the real question at the end of the day: When is a rental worth it?
At this point, the deal appears to be strictly a rental, although that can always change:
It sounds like the Brian Boyle acquisition is pure rental at this stage for #leafs. He's a pending UFA earning $2M.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) February 27, 2017
Currently, the Leafs have a 50% chance of making the playoffs, as they hold onto the last playoff spot in the East by a point, while also sitting only seven points out of the division lead with two games in hand. They are in the precarious spot where a hot or cold run in the coming weeks can decidedly swing what will happen with this team either way. In particular, they are about to embark on a three-game road trip out West against three teams that have beat them this season. Six of their next eight are on the road.
If Brian Boyle helps them get through this and make the playoffs, is the rental worth it regardless of what happens in the playoffs? Or do they have to win a round for it to truly be worth it?
As it currently stands, the Leafs would play the Washington Capitals and enter the series as heavy underdogs. If they move up the standings in their division ever so slightly, they would play Ottawa and I’d actually favour them to win that matchup.
Brian Boyle is a solid player and the Leafs paid a fair price to acquire him. It would be tough to argue otherwise. If they don’t make the playoffs – which is a real possibility at this point in time – then it will be a needless trade unless the team is able to re-sign Boyle to stay in Toronto and save face. If they make the playoffs only to be a quick out, is it worth it for a rebuilding team to trade a good pick for a rental? Probably not, unless they can re-sign him afterward. If they make the playoffs with the help of Boyle, do some damage, and advance a round or two, is he worth it then? Absolutely.
The Leafs didn’t have to buy this deadline — there is still talk they will both buy and sell, which evens things out to a degree — and nobody would have blamed them if they didn’t. They could have ridden the kids, stood back and watched how it all played out — evaluating everything including who stepped up and who faltered — and made the necessary adjustments. It appears, though, that they want to be competitive. With some luck and the right matchup, management appears to feel good about their odds of making some noise in the playoffs. But it is a fine line they are walking.
The Leafs aren’t a conventional buyer, but then again this isn’t a conventional management group, either.