Any Ranger fan regularly casting eyes over the club’s prospects throughout the lockout will no doubt have seen the immense start to the season Oscar Lindberg has enjoyed over in the Swedish Elite League. With 13 points in his first 13 games, Lindberg has enjoyed an unexpected offensive explosion of sorts.
The great start by Lindberg – playing on the top line for Skelleftea – could at the same time cast uncertainty over current Rangers players hampered with no competitive hockey because of the lockout. Brian Boyle in particular should have cause for concern.
Known as a faceoff specialist, being strong in his own end, and now refining his offensive skills, Lindberg is the ideal type of player for the Rangers third line center position. Given his skill set, Lindberg could end up being the ideal compliment to Derek Stepan and Brad Richards as the third pivot on the Rangers, as he addresses so many needs for the club. This is especially true if his current scoring streak proves to be something more than just a hot streak.
Boyle, his 20 goal season aside, has proven incapable of scoring regularly enough to be a consistent offensive contributor. While Boyle is a valuable Ranger for his size, his penalty killing, and his work ethic, the Rangers need more skill, scoring, and face off prowess in the bottom six.
Should the lockout eat up a significant portion of the season – if not all of it – entering the next campaign and its subsequent training camp, Lindberg will have a huge advantage on Boyle in that he comes to the camp with plenty of confidence and actual hockey under his belt.
Perhaps another concern for Boyle is his contract situation. The fact that Boyle’s contract is up after next season places even more uncertainty around the popular Ranger. The cap era hockey, more than ever, is a business first and a sport second. If Glen Sather has to make a straight choice between the younger, cheaper Oscar Lindberg (or another promising prospect for that matter), or the more expensive Brian Boyle, then there is likely only one choice. Sather has proven time and again he’s not afraid of jettisoning a popular veteran if he deems it the right decision.
Boyle is one of several Rangers that could be disadvantaged by not looking for hockey overseas and for not being in game shape during the lockout. Whether it’s the added competition in the form of point producing prospects, or the mere absence of competitive hockey, players such as Boyle – whose positions on the roster are far from critical to the team’s success – need to be serving a reminder to Sather and the coaching staff about how important they can be.
Now is not the time for Boyle to be resting up waiting for an NHL season to begin. Players such as Marian Gaborik (because of injury) and Ryan Callahan or Henrik Lundqvist (because of the benefits of rest) can afford not to be on the ice – Boyle doesn’t fit in their category. Plenty of inferior players compared to Boyle have found hockey jobs in Europe already. Perhaps it’s time that Boyle does the same thing, for the sake of his Rangers career.