A 36-year-old player who hasn’t played since 2019-20 and never fleet of foot will be in the Pittsburgh Penguins training camp.
Sure, if you put it that way, the Penguins PTO offer to Brian Boyle announced by GM Ron Hextall on Friday may sound like a nothing burger with an extra eye roll, but Boyle isn’t an ordinary player, and this surely seems like more than a courtesy tryout agreement. No, Brian Boyle has a real chance to make the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup and add a few missing elements.
Boyle has been skating with fellow NHL players in the Boston suburbs. Last week, he participated in a charity game with those players and local police to raise money for the Hold the Line Foundation, which supports local first responders. Conor Garland, Ryan Donato, Zach Sanford, and a few other NHL-calibre players skated in the annual charity game.
“They still can’t catch me,” Boyle joked to the Boston Globe.
The well-mustached Boyle draws heavy praise from around the league as a big player and bigger personality. Boyle has overcome Leukemia in 2017-18 and been a force for every team he’s played, including the skilled Florida Panthers lineup in 2019-20 and before that a short stint with the young skill of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But let’s not skip the obvious. Boyle is a heavy player. At 6-foot-6, 250-pounds (give or take a few pounds), when he hits, it hurts. He’s also not afraid to drop the mitts when his team needs it.
Boyle’s last time in the Metropolitan Division was with the New Jersey Devils in 2017-18. On Jan. 18, 2018, Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson crunched the diminutive Brian Gibbons with one of Wilson’s notorious full speed hits at center ice. Boyle didn’t waste three seconds before throwing punches.
Boyle received an instigator penalty, a fighting major, and a 10-minute game misconduct penalty. And the Devils bench loved it. That night, the Devils beat the eventual Stanley Cup champions in OT to close within four points of the division lead. And New Jersey goalie Keith Kincaid specifically referenced Boyle.
“…Everyone is sacrificing the body and stepping up for each other. Brian Boyle had a big fight out there, and we’re blocking shots. That’s key this time of year,” Kincaid said following the game (quote from NHL.com).
And this sequence in 2019 when Boyle steamrolled New York Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech then fought Islanders captain Anders Lee:
A PHN colleague in the Boston area offered this assessment of Boyle.
“…Even if he’s around the kids for just a month, he’s a great influence. A great leader,” our colleague offered.
Boyle played in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals with the New York Rangers (2014) on the team, including former Penguins Carl Hagelin and Derick Brassard and with the 2015 Tampa Bay Lightning.
Pittsburgh Penguins Training Camp
There’s little downside to bringing Boyle to camp later this month. The Penguins haven’t officially announced a date, but expect it sometime around Sept. 22-23. The Penguins’ first preseason game is Sept. 27.
The Penguins have offered Boyle only an opportunity to make the team, at which point they’ll formalize a contract. And if it seems like PHN is already penciling him into the lineup, it’s because we are.
Evgeni Malkin’s offseason knee surgery means he is unlikely in the lineup to start the season. That absence will elevate Jeff Carter to the second-line center position and Teddy Blueger to the third pivot.
Which leaves the fourth line open.
Boyle has not put up great statistics in a decade. His last 30-point season was in 2010-11 with the New York Rangers. In 2019-20, he scored a respectable 15 points (6-9-15) in 39 games.
And Boyle won more than 50% of his faceoffs for 11 consecutive seasons and counting.
The last hockey Boyle played was the 2021 World Championships in Latvia for Team USA. He scored three points (2-1-3) in 10 games and was the Team USA captain.
Evan Rodrigues could fill the Penguins’ fourth-line spot. In theory, so could Sam Lafferty. But Boyle becomes a big addition and a player who knows how to carry himself in tough times, rough games, and good times.
And as the Metro Division engages in an arms race to combat the Washington Capitals and Tom Wilson, perhaps the Penguins have a little deterrence to the “extra-legal” and illegal physicality which became too prevalent last season. Perhaps they have a fourth-line center as needed and a leader in the room.
It will cost the Penguins nothing to find out.