Monday, 13 February 2017

Opinion: Cashing in on Boyle's Career-High Shooting Percentage is Smart Business

It's been a rough year for the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Stuck near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the team everyone saw as a Stanley Cup contender just a few months ago is now faced with the very real prospect of being a seller at this year's trade deadline.  While things feel slightly rosier right now, thanks to a four-game point streak (3W, 1SOL), the reality of the situation is still rather bleak: Per, as of writing time the Lightning only have an 11.5% chance of making the postseason.

Because of that unfortunate probability, the rumor mill has been rampant with speculation that GM Steve Yzerman might be willing to pull the trigger on deals as the deadline approaches.  Valtteri Filppula's name has been out there for a while, Ben Bishop is almost certainly available, and there's even been some talk about one of the triplets being a potential target for teams in advance of March 1st.  Another guy who might (read: should) be on the market?  Brian Boyle.  Things on that front kicked up a notch today:
While some fans have been reluctant to consider the possibility of trading Boyle, that report from CBC's Elliotte Friedman should change the equation.  If Steve Yzerman can turn a 32-year-old, fourth-line center on an expiring contract into a first-round pick, he'd be foolish not to.  Even if this year's entry draft isn't as strong or deep as one might like, a first-round pick is still a tremendously valuable commodity.

The decision for a basement-dwelling team to trade a pending-UFA like Boyle doesn't seem intrinsically difficult.  And, yet, if the Bolts Twitterverse is any indication, it might be when it comes to this specific player.  On a team that has often looked lost this year, Boyle is viewed as a calming influence, a strong veteran presence, and a guy who can score big goals at clutch times.

While it's undoubtedly true that Boyle's voice has been and continues to be an important one in the Lightning room, it's also true that those "intangibles" can be replaced for a lot cheaper than the kind of dollars and term Boyle will likely be looking for this summer.  As for the tangibles, consider the following: Boyle's career shooting percentage per is 8.8%.  His shooting percentage this year is 13.3%.  What does that mean?  It means that the likelihood of Boyle continuing to produce at the rate that has led him to score 13 goals to this point in the season is slim.  Regression is an unfortunate reality, and it has a tendency to hit unsustainable shooting percentages square in the face.

Now, none of this is to say that Boyle hasn't been an effective player for the Lightning this season.  His five-on-five CF% is strong, his xGF% shines, and his actual GF% is approaching 60%.  Those are great numbers.  But, at this point in his career, what's the likelihood that those numbers improve or even remain consistent during the term of his next contract?  Probably not high.

There is no doubt that some team out there is going to see the playoff experience, the leadership, the intangibles, and the unusually high number of goals scored by a fourth line center this season, and dump a sizeable chunk of change on Boyle's doorstep this summer.  With the pending cap crunch facing them, you can almost be sure that said team won't be the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Fourth line centers, even good ones, are generally replaceable.  Players like Jonathan Drouin and Nikita Kucherov are not.

Based on all those factors, if some GM out there is blinded by goals, goals, goals and is willing to fork over a first-round draft pick in exchange for Brian Boyle, Steve Yzerman would be foolish to say no.  Boyle has been a fantastic fit for the Lightning over the past few seasons, but some deals are just too good to pass up.

As always, thanks for reading.

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