Dan Boyle retired Wednesday at the age of 40, wrapping up one of the more fascinating careers of any modern defenseman.
Boyle was undrafted and got a fairly late start to his career after four years at Miami University. The guy started college in 1995. That’s how long Dan Boyle has been around. He didn’t become a full-time NHLer until 2000-01, when he got 69 games with Florida. He was 24 years old at that point.
The next year he was traded to Tampa for a fifth-round pick (oops!), where he played until 2007-08, winning a Stanley Cup in 2004 along the way. When he missed the bulk of the ’07-08 season with an injury, Tampa’s ownership forced him to waive a no-trade (by threatening to put him on waivers so he could be claimed by a rotten team) before a brand-new six-year deal he’d just signed kicked in. So he went to San Jose and was awesome into his late 30s.
Then he played the past two seasons for the New York Rangers and was still pretty good, but also very clearly a guy who had lost it a bit due to his being 38 and 39 years old.
It’s a twisty-turny road, but in the end Boyle played almost 1,100 games despite his late start, and racked up more than 160 goals and 600 points. Which isn’t bad for an undersized defenseman who played the bulk of his career in two separate Dead Puck eras. And that’s without getting into his always-great possession numbers.
Six seasons with at least 50 points is a hell of a lot. And there was another where he registered 48. Seven seasons with a double-digit goal total, and four more in which he registered nine. Weird that he only finished in the top-six in the Norris voting three times, but then again he played alongside some of the best defensemen to ever put on skates for pretty much the entirety of his career.
What kind of class does that put Boyle in? Well, it’s a really damn good one. I’m of the opinion that my man should end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame, not only because he piled up the points, but also because he was very Veteran-y pretty much forever, and won both Olympic gold and a Stanley Cup. Like a lot of guys his age, the NHL’s owners robbed him of about 130 games in his career through two lockouts.
But really, very few defensemen in recent decades can match what Boyle did. Even leaving championships out of it, just 13 defensemen in the entire NHL put up as many goals and points as he did since the 1990-91 season. Eight of them are already in the Hall of Fame: Names like Lidstrom, Leetch, Blake, MacInnis, Niedermayer, Bourque, Pronger, and Housley. Real cream-of-the-crop stuff.
Boyle’s in that other five, most of whom really ought to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame at some point. They are:
4. Roman Hamrlik
Tough to see a case for Hamrlik, realistically. He’s got the production — 155 goals, 638 points — but he also got an extra 300 games to get there. Hamrlik also won Olympic gold (in 1998) but no one would ever have said he was one of the best defensemen in the world.
One season north of 60 points, sure, but that was in 1995. Everyone scored 60 points back then. No big deal. Hamrlik never cleared 40 points after 2003. Pass on his HOF cred, but I’d let in each of the next three guys.
3. Mathieu Schneider
Schneider retired in 2010, and man if you look back, he was really damn good. Also six seasons of 50 points or more, and 13 with at least 10 goals. He cleared 20 twice! Schneider ended up scoring more than 220 goals and almost 750 points. Like Hamrlik, he had an extra 200 games or so to pad his stats over Boyle’s.
He won a World Cup (’96, baby!) and a Stanley Cup (with the Montreal Canadiens). Weirdly, he never got much Norris Trophy consideration until his mid- to late-30s. That’s what playing for the mid-2000s Detroit Red Wings will do for you, I guess.
2. Sergei Zubov
It’s a travesty that Zubov isn’t in the Hall of Fame already. He retired in 2010, having wrapped up his career in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg after more than a decade with the Dallas Stars.
Zubov won two Stanley Cups, a World Junior gold, and an Olympic gold. By my count that puts him in the Triple Gold Club.
Oh, right. Let’s talk about his production, because it is mind-blowing: He played 25 fewer games than Boyle, and finished with 14 more career assists than Boyle did total points. Boyle had six seasons north of 50 points, but Zubov had two north of 70. In 1993-94, he had 89 points in 78 games(!) for crying out loud. Basically there was never even a half-season in which Zubov registered fewer than half a point per game. From the blue line. Incredible.
1. Sergei Gonchar
He’s only not-in the HOF at this point because he only retired in 2015, so it’s definitely coming. He’s first-ballot, no questions asked. More career points than Rob Blake. Won a Cup, won a Calder Cup, won both silver and bronze at separate Olympics and World Championships.
From 1999 to 2008, Gonchar hit 50 points every year, and cleared 60 three times. He probably would have done it again in 2008-09 except he missed 57 games (he still registered 19 in 25). The next year, he hit 50 again in his age-35 season.
Let’s put it this way: Sergei Gonchar currently sits No. 151 in NHL history in scoring. He’s one of only 16 defensemen to break 800 points, and only two other guys ahead of him (Doug Wilson and Gary Suter) aren’t in the Hall.
Gonchar was so good for so long. And while he never finished in the top-3 in Norris voting (again, look at the already-in-the-Hall guys he was up against every year of his career), he was in the top-6 five times.
And here’s the other thing. The guy was a damn workhorse: He averaged nearly 24 minutes a night for his entire career. He played more than 25,000 minutes since they started tracking time on ice in the late ’90s. Only four guys fit that bill:
Lidstrom. Second-best defenseman in league history. You know the CV.
Chara. Best defenseman of his generation, Norris winner, Cup winner, future first-ballot HOFer.
Gonchar. Third-highest-scoring defenseman since 1990, Cup winner, future HOFer.
And, oh, who’s that last guy, one of just three defensemen to play more than 25,000 minutes since 1998 and clear both 150 career goals and 600 career points?
Oh hell yeah, buddy. It’s Dan Boyle! Wow! He should be in the Hall of Fame!