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Boyle: Out of the Circus, Into the Shark Tank

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Can there be any NHL player right now happier than Dan Boyle? ↵

↵Think on it for a second. Late last February, at the urging of its prospective new owners, the Tampa Bay Lightning made a great big show out of signing Boyle to a long-term contract to keep him from leaving at season's end as an unrestricted free agent. The deal was ostensibly done to prove to fans that the prospective owners, OK Hockey, headed by Hollywood producer Oren Koules, were committed to having a competitive team. ↵

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↵It didn't take long for all that to fall apart. ↵

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↵Koules' group got the NHL's OK to take over the Lightning. In July, with its payroll expanding as fast as the national debt after a free-agent bender, management needed to shed salary -- and Boyle was its primary candidate to kick to the curb. What came next was bizarre. Lightning officials shopped Boyle in private -- while denying in public they were doing anything of the sort. ↵

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↵Boyle, as he made it clear in statements at the time, was more than a little perturbed. But given how things shook out since his trade to the San Jose Sharks, I can't imagine he's regretting it now. ↵

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↵On Monday, I went over the total disaster the Lightning have become under Koules and co-owner Len Barrie, vice president and general manager Brian Lawton and former coach Barry Melrose. Matt Carle, a defenseman acquired as the centerpiece of the Boyle trade, already is a memory having been traded to the Philadelphia Flyers. ↵

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↵As for Boyle, it's safe to say he's enjoying his season, especially after a wrist injury robbed him of more than half the 2007-08 season. In San Jose, he has six goals and 10 assists. He trails only the Nashville Predators' Shea Weber in scoring by defensemen. ↵

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↵With Boyle running their top power-play unit, the Sharks are scoring on 21.1 percent of their opportunities, good for sixth overall. ↵

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↵The Sharks have an NHL-best 33 points, and even fans skeptical of the Boyle deal are coming around at the Shark Tank. ↵

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↵I'm not going to make the case that adding Boyle was the most significant reason why the Sharks are the NHL's best team a few months after they dismissed coach Ron Wilson. But the Boyle deal was one of several developments that made the Sharks better now than they were when they lost to the Dallas Stars in the playoffs last spring. ↵

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↵Imagine that: using a long-term plan and incremental change to build a winner. That sounds like a lesson that could be applied elsewhere. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.