The mass flurry of free agency came and went in July, and 12-year NHL veteran Brian Boyle was still out of a job.
Training camps started and finished, and Boyle was still working out at home in Massachusetts.
The 34-year-old forward — a former first-round pick with 766 games of regular-season experience and another 114 in the Stanley Cup playoffs — kept himself in shape by mimicking a training camp regiment with a trainer and practicing with the South Shore Kings, a junior hockey team in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
“It kept me distracted of the fact that I hadn’t signed yet,” Boyle said. “It pushed me through.”
His perseverance — another theme in his long hockey career — paid off Sunday when the Florida Panthers signed him to a one-year deal. Boyle is expected to play Tuesday when the Panthers (3-2-3) host the Pittsburgh Penguins (6-3-0) at the BB&T Center.
In signing Boyle, the Panthers add yet another savvy veteran to a club looking to break through and make a postseason run in their first year under coach Joel Quenneville. It’s similar to their offseason moves to sign two-time Vezina Trophy winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, second-line winger Brett Connolly, fourth-line center Noel Acciari and second-line defenseman Aaron Stralman.
And Boyle — like the Panthers — still has unfinished business.
Even after making the playoffs each of the past nine seasons and reaching the finals with the New York Rangers in 2014 and Tampa Bay Lightning in 2015, he has yet to hoist the Stanley Cup.
His goal now: Help a rising Panthers club win its first title, too.
“Hopefully, I fill whatever role that needs to be done,” Boyle said, “but I still expect myself to make contributions. I don’t want to be a cheerleader. I want to make a difference for my team on the ice.”
He looked the part in his first practice with the Panthers on Monday. With Vincent Trocheck not on the ice — he’s questionable for Tuesday against the Penguins — Boyle spent time alternating between the second and third lines.
Almost as if wasn’t his first formal practice of the season.
“I was a little bit concerned going into it, but I was pleased after it,” Quenneville said.
At 6-6 and 245 pounds, his size and strength will play an advantage as an enforcer on the penalty kills and on power plays.
And probably as important, he’s experienced and feels he still has gas left in the tank. Boyle has played at least 69 games in each of the past six seasons — even after missing the start to the 2017-18 season while undergoing treatments for leukemia in the offseason. The Panthers are the seventh team he’s played for in his career.
“Perseverance for sure,” said Stralman, who was teammates with Boyle for six combined seasons with the Rangers (2011-2014) and the Lightning (2014-2017). “He’s been battling through a lot of things. He’s one of those guys you have the upmost respect for and also wish a lot of success. He’s just a great human being, a great guy.”
“That experience is going to come out through the season,” Quenneville added. “And he wants to be here. I think it’s a good fit in a lot of ways. ... You can tell that he’s comfortable with the group.”
How that comfort translates to the game will become evident on Tuesday.
For now, Boyle is happy to be back on the ice.
“This is what I’m supposed to be doing,” Boyle said.
▪ Aleksander Barkov, the Panthers’ team captain and top-line center, is trending toward playing agianst the Penguins on Tuesday, Quenneville said. Barkov left Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Nashville Predators in the first preiod with an upper-body injury.