Dan Boyle is in the final season of his contract with the San Jose Sharks and is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He’s been a staple on San Jose’s blue line since the club acquired him from the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008.
The veteran rearguard posted an impressive 57 points in 77 games during his first campaign in teal, and followed that up with a 58 point season the next year. Boyle immediately bolstered the Sharks’ power play and played an integral role in getting the team to the Western Conference Finals two years in a row.
Now, the 37 year old is beginning to show his age. He’s still a quality top-four defenseman, but he’s not the dominant No. 1 guy he used to be. In 46 games this season, Boyle has just 22 points and a plus/minus rating of -4. He’s particularly cold right now, with just one point in his last eight contests.
Boyle missed a chunk of games earlier in the year after being hit headfirst into the boards by St. Louis Blues forward Max Lapierre, and the concussion he suffered as a result seems to be impacting his play on the ice.
Boyle, who’s cap hit on his current deal comes in at $6.66 million, has expressed interest in signing an extension with the Sharks. According to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, there have been preliminary discussions of an extension, but nothing is close at this time. So, we know that the team and the player both want to get a new contract figured out.
The question is, should the Sharks go down that road?
After all, Boyle’s age means that any contract he signs will be a 35-and-over deal. This is a wrinkle in the league’s collective bargaining agreement that states that any contract signed by a player aged 35 and over must be honored, even if the player retires or is unable to play.
The decline in Boyle’s production, coupled with his nagging concussion symptoms, make this an especially risky proposition for the Sharks. The obvious solution is to sign him to a one-year deal and minimize the risk, which is likely what San Jose will try to do. However, LeBrun’s latest report indicates that the defenseman wants at least a two-year, if not a three-year, contract extension, which would have him signed through years in which most players are unable to perform. If the second or third year rolled around and Boyle was out of commission, the Sharks would still be on the hook for his cap hit.
Of course, those in favor of extending Boyle’s contract would point to the fact that the team doesn’t have an adequate puck-moving defenseman who can take his spot in the lineup. At the moment, this is true. Boyle is an outstanding power play quarterback, an incredible playmaker, and a terrific skater. You’re not going to get a lot of offense from Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brad Stuart or Scott Hannan, and sophomore rearguard Matt Irwin hasn’t carried over the offensive production he achieved in the minors.
However, there is one player on San Jose’s back end who could feasibly replace Boyle. Jason Demers, the 25 year old who has finally found his game after three lackluster seasons, currently leads all Sharks defensemen in points with 24. He’s on pace to set career highs for goals, points and shots, and he’s finally showing glimpses of the upside management saw in him when they drafted him in 2008.
Even if Demers can’t reach Boyle’s level, he’s still a capable top-four defenseman and an effective player on the power play who would help minimize the damage caused by losing the veteran. The free agent and trade markets are always avenues worth exploring, and if the Sharks opt to let Boyle walk, they’ll have the cap space to be active in both.