Brian Boyle is moving up the standings, the Tampa Bay Lightning are moving on and the Toronto Maple Leafs are moving into playoff mode.
The Maple Leafs acquired Boyle in a trade with the Lightning on Monday for a 2017 second-round pick and minor league forward Byron Froese. The 32-year-old defensive-minded forward joins a young Toronto team that’s trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Boyle leaves behind Tampa Bay, which went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and the Eastern Conference final last year before struggling this season under the weight of injuries to captain Steven Stamkos and others.
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The Lightning dealt another fellow pending unrestricted free agent, goaltender Ben Bishop, to the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday, and Boyle knew a trade could be coming based on the team’s salary cap situation.
”It’s disappointing in the fact that what we had in Tampa our expectations for this year weren’t met,” Boyle said on a conference call. ”But there is a business side to it and you don’t really know what’s going to happen regardless. You just hope that if you do get moved, you go to a good place and I’m very excited about where I’m headed.”
With 21 games to go, the Lightning are five points back of the Maple Leafs, who hold the second and final wild-card spot in the East. Boyle quipped that he ”moved up in the standings in the matter of a couple hours,” and expressed excitement about joining young players such as No. 1 pick Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner.
Boyle provides depth down the middle after Matthews, Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak along with penalty-killing prowess and faceoff expertise. Considered a mentor, former teammate Patrick O’Sullivan tweeted that Boyle is ”and versatile on the ice and great for the room. The kids get a good leader.”
The kids also get a playoff veteran. The Hingham, Massachusetts, native has appeared in 100 Stanley Cup playoff games, including 42 the past two years.
”Playoffs are obviously by far the most fun hockey I’ve ever been able to have a chance to play,” Boyle said.
Boyle called it a pleasure to play for the Lightning for parts of three seasons and said he’ll miss his friends there and the connections with general manager Steve Yzerman and coach Jon Cooper. He tried Sunday in church not to think about the trade deadline, only to get the call during his pregame nap roughly 48 hours before it.
A bit thrown off by the mixed emotions, Boyle is intrigued to join the Maple Leafs, who he has watched since younger players were thrown onto the ice after the trade deadline a year ago.
”They have some guys in there that are just phenomenal, phenomenal players that are going to be really good,” Boyle said. ”When I came down to Tampa I was excited about the opportunity and there was a younger team, relatively untested and we went to the Cup Final that year. So the potential and the opportunity is there, and I think the skill level is for sure there.”
It was there with Tampa Bay, too, but Stamkos’ knee injury and other problems derailed the Lightning’s attempt at a fourth consecutive playoff appearance.
”Tough part of the business, especially when the quality of the person is as good as” Boyle and Bishop, Stamkos tweeted. ”Best of luck boys.”
Yzerman said earlier Monday that he still hoped to make the playoffs, but wanted to best position the team to win the Stanley Cup at some point.
”Some of the short-term objectives, I guess, I weigh what is the return versus what I’m moving out,” Yzerman said. ”We’re going to do everything we can to make the playoffs. At least I’m going to make my decisions based on what gives us the best chance of winning a Stanley Cup whether that’s now, a year from now or two years from now.”
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .