For the Tampa Bay Lightning, 2016-17′ has so far been a season to forget. Gone are the dreams of a Stanley Cup championship. This team is attempting to survive and, if all the stars align correctly, grab one of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spots.
If the Lightning happen to achieve the near impossible, one player they can thank for keeping them in the postseason hunt will be forward Brian Boyle.
A free agent signing in the summer of 2014, Boyle has stepped up his game this season. Known for his hard-hitting, shot blocking, penalty killing abilities as a bottom six grinder he has never been the guy to score a lot of goals.
That is, until this season.
Recently thrust into a top six role due to multiple injuries up front (Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan to name a few), Boyle is enjoying what could end up being his best season since 2010-11 as a member of the New York Rangers. His 12 goals in 44 games thus far are one less than he scored all of last season. It’s also nine away from his career best of 21 with 32 games remaining, making a career year entirely possible.
Boyle has been valuable off the ice as well. His experience and leadership have provided the Lightning with a few galvanizing moments, such as their win in Calgary a month ago and last weeks come-from-behind victory over the three-time Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.
Looking ahead, Boyle is slated to be a free agent this summer. He’s proven enough to be given an extension by Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman but will he receive one?
With much of the salary cap already taken up and key restricted free agents left to re-sign in Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin, Yzerman must make some tough decisions going forward. It’s a near certainty that goaltender Ben Bishop won’t be retained and one player will end up being chosen by the expansion team in Las Vegas.
Those moves may not even be enough, however. Boyle will definitely want more than the $6 million deal he received three years ago and deservedly so.
Yzerman is going to have to make a choice. Is Brian Boyle or Valtteri Filppula best equipped to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning back to the Stanley Cup finals? If you ask me, Boyle is the guy you want. He’s versatile with the ability to not only play but perform in all situations, whether it be on the power play or penalty kill, up front or on the back-end. Combine that with his leadership abilities and this team could still achieve something special. Probably not this season, but a year or two down the road.
Will Yzerman do whatever he can to extend Boyle? If he’s smart, this won’t be a question much longer. It will instead be a statement to the rest of the league that despite this season’s misfortunes, the Tampa Bay Lightning are still contenders and plan to be for years to come.