There are long-shots, and then there’s Dan Boyle.
Part way through the 2001-02 season, Boyle had an unimpressive resume. Sure, there were flashy numbers in college and the AHL – in 1999-00 for example, Boyle had scored 52 points and gone plus-28 in 58 games with Louisville – but Boyle had never amounted to anything at the NHL level. He was 25 years old, had never been drafted, was undersized (especially for his position, defence) and was struggling to even crack the line-up of a lousy Panthers squad that would end the year with just 22 wins.
Generally, when a player is 25 years old, has size issues, never got drafted, and can’t play for one of the worst teams in the NHL, that’s a good sign that a lengthy career in Europe is in the cards.
New Atlanta Thrashers G.M. Rick Dudley didn’t let that dissuade him from acquiring Boyle. In an interview with Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dudley talks about circumstance, and points to the kind of thinking mentioned above, saying, “the natural assumption is that he can’t play for the Florida Panthers so why would you be so excited about this player.” Dudley mentions watching him play in Florida for seven straight games, and that despite limited ice-time he saw enough of Boyle to recommend acquiring him from Florida.
And certainly, Dudley deserves full credit for acquiring Boyle, and the fact that Boyle turned into an impact player in Tampa Bay is something that reflects very well on him. But listening to Dudley describe what happened, I wondered if his memory wasn’t playing tricks on him. Here’s what Dudley said:
“I watched [Boyle] play seven straight games. He played about three minutes a game. In those three minutes for seven straight games I had to make an evaluation as to whether this guy could help us. I came to the conclusion he could. I had to fight like hell with my bosses in Tampa, but we made the trade for a fifth-round draft pick. Well, you look at the player now, and I could not have done that on someone else’s say so. That comfort level wouldn’t have been there for a smaller D-man. The natural assumption is that he can’t play for the Florida Panthers so why would you be so excited about this player. The truth is he was in a circumstance. I’m not discrediting the coach. Mike [Keenan] liked big defensemen. He did not like small defensemen. Danny was a smaller defenseman. But I saw enough for our team that I felt comfortable that he could play for us.”
Three minutes a game seemed like an incredible number, and as much as I’m not a fan of Mike Keenan I wondered if that were true. I found out some interesting things.
For starters, Boyle didn’t play seven games under Keenan. Keenan was hired as Florida’s coach on December 3, 2001, and Keenan made Boyle a healthy scratch for the first half-dozen games of his coaching tenure. Boyle played only four games under Keenan before being dealt to Tampa Bay, and both his ice-time and his results were fairly impressive:
- Dec 19: one goal, two assists, plus-1, 18:05 TOI
- Dec 22: no points, minus-2, 20:50 TOI
- Dec 26: one goal, plus-1, 14:00 TOI
- Dec 28: no points, minus-1, 15:13 TOI
I don’t doubt that Keenan didn’t particularly like playing Boyle, but when Boyle finally did get into the line-up, Keenan wasn’t limiting him to three minutes per game. Boyle played regularly, and had top-four minutes for two of those games.
If, then, Dudley’s claim about watching Boyle play for seven straight games is true, he must have watched him play under the Panthers’ previous head coach, Duane Sutter. Sutter gave Boyle less ice-time, but never less than eight minutes per game and only once did Sutter play him for less than 10:00 in consecutive games.
So, like any good fish story from nearly a decade ago, Dudley’s stretching the truth. He didn’t discern Boyle’s talents from 21 minutes of total ice-time over the course of seven games, and Mike Keenan didn’t keep Boyle stapled to the bench. Boyle put up four points in four games under Keenan after a 14-game pointless streak under Sutter – a streak which Keenan probably had in mind when he made the decision to stick Boyle in the press box.