On Wednesday morning the Nashville Predators traded a second round draft pick to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for veteran forward Brian Boyle. Boyle, in his second season with the Devils, adds a tall body to a short Predators roster. Furthermore, he won the Bill Masterson Trophy last season after beating cancer and returning to hockey.
However, I wanted an inside look at what makes Brian Boyle tick, so I asked C.J. Turtoro from our SB Nation sister blog All About the Jersey for some more details. Here is what C.J. had to say about the new addition to the Predators.
1. Bobby/OnTheForecheck: Brian Boyle has only been a Devil for a season and a half, but it seems like the Devils faithful have taken to him very quickly. What is your favorite attribute of Brian Boyle, either on or off the ice?
C.J./All About the Jersey: Brian Boyle is the consummate pro. From his interviews, actions, and play, the dedication he shows to his craft is unmistakable, and his passion for the game is palpable. As Devils fans, our first exposure to Brian was when he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia and the first word we got out of him was that he wanted to be ready for opening night. While he didn’t make the opener, he played 69 games for the Devils and, in a season where the Devils made the postseason by the thinnest of margins, you’d be hard-pressed to find a fan that didn’t think Boyle’s inspirational fight pushed the team that extra inch.
In a season in which Brian Boyle was a Masterton Award winner, NHL All-Star, and cancer survivor, he couldn’t have been more eager to share the spotlight with the encouraging band of scrappy youngsters he was mentoring. In a team that, for the first season, found the identity of its rebuild, Boyle’s leadership and approach to the game was essential and his absence will sure be conspicuous.
2. OTF: On the taller end of the league at 6’6”, Boyle has size foreign to most NHL teams. How much does his size factor into his style of play? How would you characterize that style of play?
AAJ: I would say Brian knows what he is, and what he is not. In an NHL that is becoming overwhelmed with a deluge of young, fast talent who dominate an increasingly high-scoring league, Brian Boyle is the ambassador of a bygone game. He is the emissary of grit in the era of the computer boys (of which I am one, btw). Boyle expertly uses his size and strength to dominate the front of the net and to clog up passing lanes with his dragonesque wingspan. He is transitionally inept and lacks creativity and agility to be effective one the puck in the neutral and offensive zones, and so he’ll defer to his teammates in those areas while he focuses on the things he does very well.
His net impact, analytically speaking, isn’t overwhelmingly positive — on Evolving-Hockey’s GAR, he ranks 11th out of 16 NJD forwards (500+ minutes) in GAR/60 — but he’s a good hole-filler, making him the textbook deadline acquisition. A net-front power play guy AND a penalty-killer who’s historically strong in the faceoff circle and has playoff experience is a recipe for an early-February overpay.
3. OTF: It feels like a given that Boyle is going to feature on the Predators’ penalty kill, but he also could be a strong netfront presence on a power play. The Devils have utilized Boyle in this very role. How effective has he been on the power play?
AAJ: So, I don’t actually think he belongs in a first power play unit on a good team. That’s a time where you need vision, creativity, and speed to take best advantage of the additional space. The Devils 1-3-1 setup with heavy reliance opens up a very natural spot for him, however. And since we rely so heavily on a few guys in transition (Hall, Butcher, Johansson, etc.) Boyle’s deficiencies aren’t as apparent. According to Corisca, Boyle’s impact is a bit fuzzy — positive RelT xGF/60 (expected goal impact), but negative RelT GF/60 (actual goal impact). Don’t expect a world-beater, but as I said earlier, he does what he does well.
4. OTF: With 13 goals and 19 points this season, Boyle is finding the net at a rate higher than many bottom-six forwards in the NHL. Is this due mostly to his high shooting percentage, or how is he scoring all of these goals?
AAJ: He digs up rebounds and tips shots well — of his 12 goals, 6 of them were one of those (4 tips, 2 rebounds). He’s a career 9.2% shooter currently shooting 16% so, yes, I’d expect that a fair amount of his production so far is random variation. He hasn’t, at 34 years old, finally found another offensive gear. He hasn’t scored more than 15 goals since 2011 and that was the only year he’s ever done it. His career average is 0.16 goals per game, and with 27 games left for the Preds, that’d be 4-5 goals. That sounds about right to me.
5. OTF: Do you have a favorite Brian Boyle moment during his time as a Devil?
AAJ: There’s a few. Scoring on Hockey Fights Cancer Night just two months after his diagnosis was great. Scoring again on our second Hockey Fights Cancer Night was also great. Scoring his first career hat trick on Pittsburgh’s Hockey Fights Cancer Night was also great. You heard that right, he’s 3-for-3 scoring on HFC nights. You guys should probably make every playoff game a HFC night.
Getting a standing O at the ASG from fans of his former team in Tampa Bay was really cool to see as well.
But I actually think it’s unfair to him to say that that’s how I’ll remember him. The cancer didn’t define him in his mind, and it won’t in mine. My favorite memory was the most vintage Boyle game in his tenure here at NJ—12/15/17 against the Stars. In the second period, John Klingberg checked Boyle from behind, sending him head first into the boards. This didn’t sit well with anyone. About 6 minutes later, in front of the Stars net (of course), Boyle and Klingberg get really physical and Boyle ends up on the ice, but not before putting in the go-ahead goal. Standing on his opponents grave, he chirped Klingberg with some colorful language, celebrated with his team, and then went on to fight anyone he could find in white and green. That whole exchange is saved as a .gif in my mind. And I hope he’s got a bunch of those games left. I’ll be rooting for him in what will almost definitely be a Devils-less postseason.
Big thanks to C.J. and our SB Nation friends over at All About the Jersey for joining us for this segment! Be sure to give C.J. (@CJTDevil) and All About the Jersey (@AATJerseyBlog) follows on Twitter. We wish the Devils the best of luck and hopefully a quick recovery for Taylor Hall!