Martin covered Boyle’s impact yesterday, but here’s a little more. It’s Thanksgiving week so forgive me for not rewriting this one.
Though contract length and roster construction played a part, the Rangers basically chose between two distinct skill sets when they elected not to re-sign Anton Stralman and inked Dan Boyle as his replacement in July.
The argument for Boyle was that he was the true offensive defenseman the team had long lacked and a stud power play quarterback. The argument for Stralman was that he was among the league’s best possession players and had emerged as New York’s best defender other than Ryan McDonagh.
While Boyle missed the first five weeks of the season with a broken wrist, the patchwork Rangers’ defense often looked like it might get lit up in beer league and the power play was as inept as always. Meanwhile, Stralman was racking up points at an unprecedented rate and was called “nothing short of sensational” by his new coach, Jon Cooper.
But now that Boyle is back and contributing, we’re starting to see what the Rangers gained from the swap. Already Boyle has had a huge impact on the power play, where his quick and decisive puck moving have been a breath of fresh air and have helped unlock the true capabilities of players like Derek Stepan and Martin St. Louis on the man advantage. (Of course, it’s not fair to give Boyle all the credit – Stepan’s return to the lineup has also been huge, but Boyle’s presence at the top has definitely opened things up).
With the exception of last year’s horribly unlucky season for San Jose, Boyle’s team has finished in the top seven of power play conversion rate in six of the past seven seasons, including four top-three finishes. New York has only cracked the top 15 once over that stretch:
Again, it would be ridiculous to give Boyle all the credit knowing he’s played alongside the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture in San Jose, as well as St. Louis, Brad Richards and Vinny Lecavalier in their primes with the Lightning. But not just anyone can play with those guys, as we’ve seen repeatedly in New York with star players. And instead of holding the top forwards back on the power play, Boyle may be giving them more opportunities (that’s pretty difficult to quantify, but the eye test certainly supports that thought).
In reality, those percentage points don’t amount to more than a few goals a year. But if you believe that Boyle at the point does have a direct correlation to his team’s power play success, than you might be interested to note what a modest bump in power play production could have done for the Rangers in recent years. Here’s a look at how many more goals they would have scored on the man advantage if they’d simply produced as a top-15 and top-10 team in recent years:
Those few goals may not seem like much, but the general rule is that three goals is equivalent to a win, so a competent power play could have been worth a couple more Ws a year going back, and in 2008-2009, it could have given New York home-ice advantage, as opposed to a #7 seed and a date with Washington, which the Blueshirts dropped in seven games.
Those numbers are amusing to look at, but they’re really meaningless. It’s impossible to measure one player’s impact on a power play, and the truth is that timely power play scoring is much more important than the totals. But we all know that the Rangers’ power play has been atrocious for years, while Boyle’s teams have consistently been among the league’s best. After just a few games, it’s not hard to believe that he was directly responsible for that.
Look, Glen Sather has overvalued Marc Staal and Dan Girardi and should have found a way to keep Stralman, there’s no denying that. But – and I’m as guilty as anyone – we’ve spent so much time crucifying his decision that we might have been overlooking what Boyle brings to the table. Ranger fans have seen some dreadful units over the years and should be better qualified than most to acknowledge that things just feel different lately – the man advantage is actually an advantage.