Boyle trade creates questions for both Sharks and Lightning
All of a sudden, the San Jose Sharks look like the old Colorado Avalanche, filled to the brim with aging stars ready to hunt down the Stanley Cup and with warning flags going up all over the place for the future.
But, when you've been Stanley Cup darlings for the past three Octobers and playoff driftwood each of the past three springs, it's time to either fish or cut bait. And so, the Sharks celebrated the Fourth of July by adding top puck-moving defenseman Dan Boyle and veteran blueliner Brad Lukowich for defensemen Matt Carle and Ty Wishart, a first-round selection in 2009 and a fourth-round pick in 2010.
The acquisition of Boyle, preceded by the signing of veteran Rob Blake a day earlier, more than fills the void created by defenseman Brian Campbell's departure to Chicago via free agency on July 1. The move also re-establishes the Sharks as one of the teams to beat in the Western Conference with a battle-tested blue line that includes multiple Cup winners in Lukowich, Boyle and Blake in front of Vezina Trophy finalist Evgeni Nabokov in goal.
But it wasn't all that long ago that San Jose boasted a young and emerging team that looked to be set for the long haul. While the Sharks still have top young players in Marc-Edouard Vlasic on defense and Ryane Clowe, Milan Michalek, Torrey Mitchell and Devin Setoguchi up front, the Sharks have also dealt away significant assets in a thus far vain attempt to build a champion.
Craig Rivet cost them Josh Gorges and a first-round pick at the 2007 trade deadline. Now, the Sharks don't even have Rivet after he was acquired by the Buffalo Sabres. The ghastly Bill Guerin experiment that same spring cost them a position player (Ville Nieminen), a prospect (Jay Barriball) and a first-round pick. The equally disappointing Campbell experiment (he played just 33 games for the Sharks) cost San Jose talented young forward Steve Bernier and a first-round pick.
The moves are reminiscent of the path followed by Blake's old team in Colorado, a franchise that damned the torpedoes and assembled a talented, veteran squad that won a Stanley Cup in 2001. Since the lockout, though, the Avs have struggled to replenish their reserve of young talent and have yet to return to contender status.
The Sharks have been bumped in the second round in the past three postseasons and, in each case, the losses to Edmonton, Detroit and Dallas, respectively, would qualify as at least mild upsets.
Boyle, who turns 32 next week, should help the transition between the defensive zone and the Sharks' talented forwards led by Joe Thornton. He should also help the Sharks' 10th-ranked power play. But the cost was significant, which means this version of the Sharks had better find itself at least advancing to a Western Conference final or things could get really ugly in the Shark Tank.
As for the Lightning, they hope a change of scenery will get Carle, 23, back on the development track after he seemed to take a step back last season. Carle was a healthy scratch at times during the regular season and playoffs, and his points production dropped from 42 in 2006-07 to 15 this past season.
For the new ownership group that loudly proclaimed it wanted to be back in the playoff hunt this coming season after finishing last in 2007-08, Boyle's departure leaves the Lightning puzzlingly thin along the blue line.
After the team went all out to sign Boyle to a six-year, $40 million contract extension before last February's trade deadline, Oren Koules, Len Barrie et al have shed salary, but have entrusted the Tampa blue line to Filip Kuba, Shane O'Brien, Paul Ranger and youngsters Carle and Alexandre Picard. We do not see the likes of Robinson, Lapointe and Savard here. And with goaltending still in a state of flux, the Boyle move creates more questions for a team that was tied for last place in goals allowed per game.
But a source close to the team acknowledges that while the Lightning are a young squad, they are still open to making moves to add more experience to their blue line. And Tampa Bay could use its two first-round and two second-round picks in the 2009 draft as trade bait. Veteran free-agent defenseman Mathieu Schneider could be an option.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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