Last season, Brian Boyle enjoyed what was easily far and away the best season of his career.
Boyle set career highs in games played (82), goals (21), assists (14), total points (35), shots (218), shooting percentage (9.6 percent) and penalty minutes (74). To put things in perspective, in 2009-2010 Boyle put up 4 goals and 2 assists for 6 points in 71 games with the Rangers and before last season thatwas the best season of his NHL career. It was simply an astounding season who actually entered last season on the roster bubble and had to earn a roster spot in training camp. In addition to his on-ice production, Boyle was also a much more complete player for the Rangers from his work on the penalty kill and his emergence as one of the team leaders. The PK pairing of Boyle and rugged winger Brandon Prust wound up becoming everything that John Tortorella wanted his Rangers team to stand for with their gutsy and gritty style of play and their willingness to lay everything out on the line to block shots, finish checks and go hard to the net.
But Boyle’s style of play didn’t come without a price. John Tortorella acknowledged several times over the course of the season that Boyle was playing banged up and fighting his way through various injuries that came from his physical style of play. It also had a noticeable impact on Brian Boyle’s game, as his offensive game began to slip as the season wore on. After scoring 14 goals in the team’s first 38 games of the regular season, Boyle scored only 7 goals in his final 44 games, including just 3 goals in his last 30 games. He also failed to record a point in the Rangers’ five game playoff series with the Washington Capitals. Boyle’s declining play over the second half of the season was somewhat alarming, and it begged the question whether his hot start was a fluke or if the wear and tear of the season just eventually caught up to him.
Much was made about Boyle’s skating lessons with Olympic figure skater Barbara Underhil last offseason, so much so in fact that other Rangers players began training with her during this offseason. Boyle displayed better balance last season and definitely utilized his size much more effectively. For the first time since I’d seen him play, Boyle wasn’t afraid to carry the puck in the middle of the ice and crash the net – it was like he was finally playing up to his 6’7”, 244 lbs. frame. It wasn’t just Boyle’s skating that saw huge improvements last year, but I do believe his career year mainly stemmed from it. He definitely played with more confidence as the season went on, and the fact that he was able to stay on his feet allowed him to keep up with the flow in the offensive zone. Furthermore, many of Brian’s goals were scored off his quick release on his wrist shot, which many people didn’t even know he had (myself included) until last season. He wasn’t necessarily any stronger or any faster, but there’s no doubt Boyle was able to showcase his offensive ability due to the fact that he was a much better skater. I think the chemistry Boyle developed with Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko also helped tremendously. It was perhaps the Rangers’ most consistent forward line all season long and there’s no doubt John Tortorella began trusting the trio with more and more shifts as the season went on. All three guys seemed to click together, and Prust’s developing offensive game no doubt made Brian Boyle a better overall player.
Being that I do believe a lot of his offense came off of his improved skating, it would make sense then why his production slowed down during the second half of the season. The 82 regular season games Boyle skated in last season were the most games he’s ever played in a season – not just in the NHL, but also counting his time in the AH, college and high school. When you combine that with the fact that Boyle was getting substantially more ice time than any other point in his career, it’s highly possible that his legs just started to give out on him as the season went along. That’s not meant to be a shot on Boyle’s conditioning, it’s just a possible explanation for why he struggled so much in the second half of the season. With a new offseason regimen that focused mainly on increasing his endurance and making his legs stronger, I do think it’s possible that he just got burned out from a workload he never experienced before.
So the biggest question about Brian Boyle is if he’ll be able to duplicate last season’s performance. It’s funny that this time last year many Rangers fans were ready to crucify Glen Sather for giving up a third round draft pick to acquire Brian Boyle (once again, myself included), and this year it actually looks like Glen Sather may have come up with a bargain if Boyle has finally found “it” and is now just starting to play up to his potential that the Los Angeles Kings saw in him when they drafted him with the 26th overall pick in the 2003 draft. Boyle will turn 27 years old this December. While he’s not old by any stretch of the imagination, he definitely isn’t a prospect anymore at this point in his career and if he was ever going to put things together it would seem like it’s now or never. Boyle will never be a first line playmaking center, but if he can play physical with his size and become a guy who can score 20+ goals a season, perform well on faceoffs and continue to excel on the penalty kill then the Rangers will definitely have a steal on their hands. Boyle was signed to a new three-year deal this offseason in which he’ll be earning $1.7 million per season, so it’s not like the Rangers have a ton of cap space tied up in him. Maybe he’s earning a few $100,000 more than the Rangers would’ve ideally liked to pay him per season, but that’s what happens when a guy has a career season the year his contract is up. In any event, the point I’m trying to make is that even if Boyle never tops the 21 goals he scored last year it’s still a fair deal for both sides in my opinion. And on the other side of that, if he does pot 20 goals again then it’ll look like the Rangers got themselves a bargain by having a 20-goal scorer locked up for under $2 million per year.
It’s hard to predict what kind of numbers Brian Boyle will put up this coming season, mainly because the Rangers have more offensive firepower this season and may not need to give Boyle 15-plus minutes a night if Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan all can handle their own in leading the team’s offense. I feel like it’s a safe prediction that Boyle will score 15 goals this coming season and add around 15 assists. If Boyle skates on a line with Brandon Prust and Mike Rupp like I think he will, that’s a lot of muscle on that line and they could potentially create a lot of chaos for opposing goalies by crashing the net. Unlike my prediction for how far this entire Rangers team can go next season, I just have a tendency to lower my expectations for Brian Boyle’s goals total. I wouldn’t be shocked if he surpassed 15 goals this season, but I would be if he topped 20 or even the 21 he scored last season. As long as he can provide solid secondary scoring, that’s really all the Rangers need from him considering how well he handles his other roles on the team.
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