No matter what team you cheer for in any sport, your franchise of choice will always have those players that you look back on and think… how did we let him go? That future All-Star who looked just average as a rookie, or a veteran that was traded just before they became a stalwart at their position.
Now we will look back on one of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s all-time great defensemen, Dan Boyle. While it may seem strange to say that Boyle ‘got away’ from the Lightning if he already had a legacy with the franchise, his now-infamous trade in 2008 was a defining moment of the team for years to come.
Boyle’s Successful Time With the Lightning
As an undrafted free agent out of college, Boyle started his professional hockey career with the Lightning’s cross-state rivals, the Florida Panthers. He spent three and a half years playing in both the AHL and the NHL before being traded to Tampa Bay for a 2003 fifth-round draft pick.
What may have been seen as a depth move at the moment quickly became a windfall for the Lightning. Boyle thrived on Tampa Bay’s blue line, taking on more than 22 minutes of ice-time each night while giving the franchise a much needed top-pairing defender.
By 2006-07, Boyle was placing himself amongst the Lightning’s all-time greats after he became the first defenseman in franchise history to score 20 goals in a season. His 63 points was also the second-highest in Tampa Bay history by a defender at the time, behind only Roman Hamrlik.
Even with a freak accident derailing his 2007-08 season, Boyle was still one of the key players for the Lightning’s future. With a freshly signed six-year extension in 2008, Tampa Bay appeared to have the face of their defense for years to come.
Lightning Trade Boyle to Sharks
Of course, if Boyle had played through that contract, this article wouldn’t need to exist. Not long after he was re-signed, however, he was pressured by the Lightning’s new management to waive his no-trade clause, allowing him to be sent to the San Jose Sharks.
In that deal, the Lightning traded Boyle and Brad Lukowich for Matt Carle, Ty Wishart, a 2009 first-round pick, and a 2010 fourth-round selection.
Needless to say, this trade did not age well for the Lightning. Over the next four seasons, Boyle would return to form in San Jose, posting close to 50 points each season while playing roughly 25 minutes each night. Even when his play dipped in 2012-13 and 2013-14 he still averaged almost 22 minutes of playing time.
The Lightning, on the other hand, got little out of this move. Carle and Wishart played a combined 21 games in the 2008-09 season before departing the franchise, they flipped the 2009 first-round pick in a package for Andrej Meszaros who played just two seasons in Tampa Bay and the fourth-rounder was used to select James Mullin who never played with the team.
So, San Jose got six seasons of a top-four defenseman out of Boyle, where the Lightning got, at best, two and a half seasons worth of players in return.
Boyle Leaves San Jose for New York
With his six-season contract played out with San Jose, Boyle left the Sharks and after a roundabout stop with the New York Islanders, became a free agent during the 2014 offseason. Here, he has connected to the Lightning once again, who were still in desperate need of a top-four defenseman years after his initial trade.
However, Boyle would agree to sign with the New York Rangers, who in turn let Anton Stralman walk in free agency. Stralman, of course, would sign a five-year contract with the Lightning, providing them with their needed top-four defender.
So, in a way, Boyle helped the Lightning finally get their replacement for him, nearly six years after he was traded. While that may not have been an ideal timeframe, Stralman helped to ease those years of pain with his stout defensive play.
What the Lightning Lost With Boyle
Almost immediately after the Lightning traded Boyle, they struggled to find consistent play on their blue line. They were already a bad team defensively in 2007-08, and without their top player, the unit got worse.
There is one bright side to all of this, though. If the Lightning had kept Boyle, there’s a chance they may not have been so bad as to get the second-overall pick in the 2009 Draft, where they selected Victor Hedman.
Hedman, of course, became everything that Tampa Bay had hoped for and more. He has gone on to become the best defenseman in franchise history, taking down some of Boyle’s records while winning awards along the way.
No matter how you look at it, though, trading Boyle was a mistake for Tampa Bay at the time. The franchise was starved for defensive talent, and his sudden departure left the unit bare. It took years to recover from this move, which helped lead to some of the worst seasons in Lightning history.
Related: Lightning’s All-Decade Team: Defense
So, even if things worked out well in the end, Lightning fans will always look back at the Boyle trade and think ‘what could have been’ if he had played through his 2008 contract extension.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.