Last week, Greg Wyshynski over at Puck Daddy had a great breakdown of which NHL teams have the most expensive defense. I don’t know why, but I was surprised to see the Sharks at the very top of the list. I shouldn’t have been surprised: the Sharks have some real bad asses manning the blue line. Let’s take a closer look at the Sharks’ top D-men and what the new coaching changes and player acquisitions might mean, shall we?
We’ll start with Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray.
Considered the Sharks’ best defensive player, Dan was traded to the Sharks before the 2008-09 season from the Tampa Bay Lightning. He made an instant impact to a Sharks team that was lacking in points from the blue line. Dan’s current contract, which includes a limited no-movement clause (he can choose eight teams he wouldn’t accept a trade to), will expire at the end of the 2013-14 season and accounts for a $6.6 million cap hit, making him the ninth highest paid D-man in the NHL (eighth if you exclude Chris Pronger, who we probably won’t see lacing up his skates anytime soon).
At 36 years old, Dan isn’t exactly a spring chicken. But his age isn’t slowing him down: He played an average of 25:35 per game last season, the second most in the NHL. And Dan plays big minutes, contributing to the power play and putting up 252 shots last season, second best in the league for a defenseman.
Boyler’s offensive production has been sliding, though. While his SOG have increased every season (180 in 09-10, 199 in 10-11, and an insane 252 in 11-12), his point production has slowly been moving down (58 in 09-10, 50 in 50 in 2010-11 and 48 in 2011-2012). He just seemed to have trouble connecting with the net last season, but that could have been caused by a broken foot he played with for the first part of the season, which slowed him down considerably.
But Dan isn’t just a shooter; he’s a great defensive player, too. He finished the season with a plus-10, had 58 hits, 137 blocks and 21 takeaways.
In a nutshell, Boyle isn’t producing points like some might want, but his two-way game is so impressive we can’t be upset, right? He also has a mad sense of humor (see his best Blue Steel impression above), an Olympic gold medal and his name on the Stanley Cup. One would image his age, experience and bluntness definitely bring important characteristics to a locker room that is frequently accused of lacking fire and leadership.
The Sharks’ D-lines were shuffled around throughout last season, but for the last few previous seasons Dan Boyle’s line mate/big body/checker/blocker/Viking has been Douglas Murray.
I need to be frank: Douglas Murray is my favorite. Ever. He’s from Sweden, so he really is a Viking. But his good blood-line doesn’t end there. His grandfather is Lars Björn, a former Swedish hockey player who won nine Swedish championships and is in the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame. Douglas is a great wall of a man, standing 6’3” and weighing 240 pounds, who has a huge presence and makes even bigger hits. One of my favorite pastimes is watching YouTube videos of Douglas Murray hits while eating ice cream. I’m not joking. Here is one of my favorites:
“Chipchura on the receiving end of the midnight express that is Douglas Murray.”
Douglas (I read his mother doesn’t like people calling him “Doug” because it sounds similar to a vulgar word in Swedish. I’m not sure in the validity of this, though, so any clarification from Swedish-speaking readers is much appreciated.) is only signed through the end of this upcoming season, and his cap hit is $2.5 million, making him the lowest paid of the Sharks’ “top” defensemen. His 18:23 average ice time was also the lowest among the top D-men.
Douglas isn’t a point producer; he scored only 4 points (all assists) last season, down from 14 points in 2010-2011, and 17 in 2009-2010. But what Douglas lacks in offense he typically makes up for in defense. His numbers last season (126 hits, 143 blocks and 14 takeaways) slid considerably from the previous seasons (he had 203 hits and 140 blocks in ‘10-11, and an astounding 233 hits and 99 blocks in ‘09-10), and was probably one of the major contributing factors as to why shot-blocking beast Marc-Edouard Vlasic played a majority of the season on the top D-line with Dan Boyle.
Without ever experiencing what it is like in the Sharks’ locker room, I can only imagine what Douglas brings to the table. He’s incredibly intelligent and well-spoken; he attended Cornell (where he started a business with some classmates selling their invention, the Ubertap, a “multiple faucet keg tap with a foot pump” that is “5 times faster than the common keg tap”), speaks three languages and was named on the Sporting News’ list of the 20 smartest athletes. Douglas is the only Sharks player on the NHLPA Negotiating Committee, and he seems to be taking his position on the committee very seriously.
Not surprisingly, with their “decrease” in productivity, Boyle and Murray are the two defensemen whose names continue to come up most frequently as potential trades. This would just be silly. Neither had incredibly horrible seasons, and the “decreases” they had weren’t anything crazy. Plus, Boyle played through a serious injury. It may have slowed him down, but it didn’t stop him. Both provide valuable experience on and off the ice. Now, I won’t be surprised if Murray’s contract isn’t resigned after this season (nnoooooo. I don’t want it, but I’m prepared for it.) Plus, with D-men getting crazy expensive offers, it would be hard to find guys of equal caliber for the prices Boyle and Murray play for now.