What does Brian Boyle bring to the table for the Leafs?

    The trade:

    The Toronto Maple Leafs received Brian Boyle from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Byron Froese (AHL) and the highest of Toronto’s three 2nd round picks in the 2017 draft.

    I’m not going to dwell on the exchange too long, as I think it’s a pretty even exchange for both sides. Toronto got a rental who will be a huge improvement on their current 4C, and while a 2nd round pick is a decent asset, it was one that they could spare. Tampa offloads an expiring contract for a draft pick that should be in the 45-52 range and an AHL prospect with some upside who may be able to fill an occasional call-up role in the NHL. Both sides should be happy with the outcome, especially Toronto if they are able to re-sign Boyle.

    The player:

    Height: 6’6” (198 cm)
    Weight: 244 lbs (111 kg)
    Born: December 18, 1984 (age 32), Hingham, Massachusetts, U.S.
    Drafted: 26th overall, 2003 (L.A. Kings)
    Grit: Off the charts
    Moustache:  Yowza

    Brian Boyle is what you would get if you pumped Mike Babcock’s dreams of a prototype 4C into a Westworld robot printer. He’s a huge centre who consistently wins faceoffs at an above-average rate, can be leaned on in defensive situations, and still manages to chip in a decent amount of goals every year. He’s a good interview and seems like an all around nice guy; Boyle and his massive family (he’s the seventh of thirteen children) were a hit on HBO’s Flyers/Rangers Road to the Winter Classic.

    The stats:

    I summarized some of Boyle’s key stats for the for his past three seasons with Tampa. All stats were obtained from Corsica (Emmanuel Perry).

    Season GP G A P

    5v5

    P1/60

    FO% Rel. CF% Rel. xGF%
    2014-15 82 15 9 24 1.27 53.24 -3.49 0.57
    2015-16 76 13 7 20 0.87 52.94 -1.82 2.06
    2016-17 54 13 9 22 1.46 52.11 2.21 3.18

    For a 3rd/4th line centre, Boyle has done a really solid job over the last three seasons. Out of  372 forwards with over 1000 minutes played over the last three seasons, Boyle has generated primary points at the 176th best rate. He’s not a top scorer by any means, but he’s very good for a bottom 6 player. Boyle is also consistently above average on the faceoff; while the value of this skill is up for debate, it’s definitely a talent that Babcock treasures and one that you want for a guy who will take a lot of defensive shifts.

    Interestingly, while Boyle was one of the worst puck possession players for Tampa from 2014-2016, he has consistently been above average in terms of xGF%. This is a result of Boyle’s talent for suppressing scoring chances and limiting shots in the crease. With Boyle on the ice, Tampa Bay has allowed very few chances close to the goal, far below the league average. In the plots below, provided by HockeyViz (Micah Blake McCurdy), we can see a very clear difference between Tampa’s defensive results when Boyle is on the ice compared to when he is off.

    "guys pls stop" - Ben Bishop

    2016-17 Tampa Bay Lightning without Boyle on the ice.

    If you’re not familiar with these plots, red areas show where Tampa allows more shots from than league average, while blue areas show where they allow fewer; the darker the region, the further from league average. Tampa tends to give up a lot of shots from the slot, however this changes drastically with Boyle on, limiting shots in high danger areas and pushing them to the perimeter of the defensive zone.

    "wow much better" - Ben Bishop

    2016-17 Tampa Bay Lightning with Boyle on the ice.

    Projected role for the Leafs:

    In a healthy Leafs lineup, Boyle will slot into a 4C role behind Matthews/Kadri/Bozak, playing alongside Matt Martin and Josh Leivo/Nikita Soshnikov. Chasing a puck into the corner against Martin and Boyle together sounds like an absolute nightmare. He’s going to be a vast improvement over the Leafs much-maligned (and rightfully so) current 4C Ben Smith. I expect to see Boyle get heavy defensive usage – based on his results in Tampa, we know he can have a huge impact in the defensive zone. While I don’t Boyle taking over some of the heavy lifting would free up the Kadri line to do more damage in the offensive zone against lesser competition. I would also expect him to take an immediate role on the penalty kill, where Babcock will likely value his faceoff talent, size and long reach.

    Another aspect that has been covered by the media, management, and even Leafs players is the playoff experience that Brian Boyle brings to the team. Boyle has the most playoff experience of any NHL player since 2011. Say what you will about intangibles, but this is one area that I think a veteran player like Boyle can provide some real guidance and off-ice leadership to a team composed mainly of rookies who are looking to reach a playoff berth. I can’t speak much to what Boyle is like off the ice, but I would bet that with his experience, he can be a real mentor and a calming presence to a guy starting his first playoff game.

    In summary:

    Boyle should be a nearly perfect addition for the Leafs. He’s built to Babcock’s exact specifications, and provides an immediate fix for their glaring need at 4C. He provides not only excellent defensive coverage, but has enough skill to contribute meaningfully in the offensive zone. Boyle is no superstar, but he will nonetheless play a very important role for Leafs. The price that they paid for him is reasonable, and it would make a lot of sense for the Leafs to pursue a 2-3 year extension for Boyle after this year.