Brian Boyle has not played a game in 2017. The Lightning have not won a game in 2017. Coincidence? Probably, but there is no doubt that the hulking center is a key piece of this season’s team.
In the month of December Boyle scored 6 goals (3 on the power play) and added 2 assists in 14 games. He helped re-ignite a stagnant power play unit, won slightly more than half of his faceoffs, and even filled in a little on defense. For his contributions Raw Charge names Brian Boyle as December’s Bolt of the Month.
The Lightning struggled through December, winning 6 games and losing 8 as injuries and defensive breakdowns began to take their toll. When the month began he was firmly ensconced on the fourth line and comfortable in his role as an energy guy whose role was to get the puck to the offensive zone so the skill guys could get the puck in his net.
When Jason Garrison was banged up early in the month and missed a few shifts, it was Boyle who slid back to fill in the void on the blue line. He’s done it a few times in his career with the Lightning and shows how valuable he is to the team.
Once injuries started to hit the forward lines Boyle began playing more and more, and his linemates went from JT Brown to Jonathan Drouin. His playing time crept up to a season high 20:41 in the Lightning’s 5-2 win over St. Louis on December 22nd.
He would play an average of 17:38 over the next three games (two of them wins) and score another goal. On New Year’s Eve he left the game against Carolina with a lower body injury after scoring a power play goal.
Despite being a big, lumbering type of skater (although we know he works hard on his skating in the off-season with pro instructor Barb Underhill), he showed that he could hold his own on the top line. Case in point - finishing off a nifty play by Drouin against Toronto
His success on the power play isn’t complicated. He gets in front of the net and basically eclipses the goaltender. It’s really hard for a goaltender to stop something he can’t see. It also puts him in position to deflect a puck or knock in a rebound as he did against Carolina.
He’s been a fan favorite since joining the team in 2014-15. He is fun, engages with the fans, and plays the style of hockey that combines actual talent with the intangible. A 20-goal scorer who doesn’t mind playing in the dirty parts of the ice is always going to have fans. His mocking of Justin Abdelkader in the 2016 playoffs is legendary
A strong argument can be made that along with Drouin, Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov, Boyle has been one of the more important players on the team this year. As the season moves on, and hopefully he returns to the line-up, he could spark a run to the playoffs.
Or, if they continue to slide out of contention, maybe Mr. Yzerman moves him for a future asset. He could be a key pick up for a contender and as an unrestricted free agent this summer he could be the odd man out when it comes to staying under the cap.
All players have a role on a team, and few do theirs better than Brian Boyle.