With the addition of so many new bodies, the competition for roster spots in the Flames forward rotation is a fierce one these days. A player either has to be clearly superior to his competition or at least a body with a defined role. And when Calgary’s regular season went on hold recently, it looked like Dustin Boyd was neither.
I’ve always been a fan of Boyd. I like his skill set, his work ethic and his past accomplishments at other levels. That said, when he was announced as a healthy scratch in Calgary’s final game before the break – passed over in favor of guys like Jamal Mayers, Eric Nystrom and raw rookie Mikael Backlund – it was a strong indication to me that his time with the organization may be coming to a close. In 192 career NHL games, Dustin has done little more than spin his wheels with this club. He’s garnered 28 goals and 29 assists in a mostly and 4th line role that seems to stick to him like a scarlet letter. Part of that has been the team’s emphasis to "win now", which has meant a promotion of veterans to key positions up front in lieu of risking wins to develop the kid.
On the other hand, Boyd has never made a consistent case to be promoted. While there are certainly flashes of brilliance now and then; where his soft hands and offensive awareness stand out for a shift or game, his underlying stats have been consistently below grade for almost the entriety of his career. This season, for example, Boyd has the 4th worst corsi/60 rate (-0.87) and the 5th worst relative corsi rate (-5.7/60), despite being relatively sheltered at ES, both in terms of level of competition and shift starting position.
The difference between Boyd and more established NHLers has been further pronounced since the miid-season rebuild. While the team has improved in terms of out-shooting and possession since that point overall, Boyd is one of only two Flames to remain under water in terms of corsi ratio (Eric Nystrom is the other). It’s a small sample size, to be certain, but not out of line with Boyd’s struggles to effectively move the puck forward, both this year and last. It’s tough to promote a guy in this kind of crowded environment, no matter his "potential", when he lags behind his peers.
With the apparent willingness of the organization to promote rookie Mikael Backlund and play him in Boyd’s stead, it’s probable that the latter is now a trade bait, both at the deadline and, failing that, in the off-season. The team doesn’t have much room or use for him currently and his plateauing progression gives the decision makers little reason to grant him a place on the roster, particularly over (ostensibly?) superior options. Doubtless, there is a certain amount of risk associated with moving a player of Boyd’s age and raw talent after poring a bunch of time and money in developing him – he is, after all, right near that point in a player’s career arc where they "take the next step" and become a functional NHL player. However, there’s a very real possibility that Boyd’s stock has fallen in this organization to degree that he’s essentially a serf in a rigid caste system and will therefore never experience the kind support and upward mobility that would likely be required to further his development. As a result, he’s probably far more valuable to a hypothetical "seller" at the trade deadliine than he is to the Flames currently.
I honestly hope I’m misreading the tea leaves here and Boyd will bound back into the Flames picture and become the kind of NHL forward many of us have hoped for in Calgary. Unfortunately, that seems like a long shot right now.