Isles Gamble On Boychuk To Win Now
Signing a 31-year old defenceman to a 7 year extension was always going to raise eyebrows; but in retaining Johnny Boychuk’s services until 2022 the club has signified its intention to capitalise on the window it has opened for itself.
This is a team that wants to win, feels it has a group that can achieve that and has done everything in its power to ensure that group stays together – even if it means taking a few risks.
You won’t find any arguments from me that, at some point, the Islanders might have a tinge of regret when a 36-year old Boychuk is still pulling in $6m. But that’s not what this deal is about.
Since July the Islanders have added to a core which already contained superstar John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Travis Hamonic and a glut of young talent. They signed the clubs first bona fide #1 netminder since DiPietro’s body gave up and added useful veterans like Mikhail Grabovski to give the club it’s healthiest looking line up for years.
The long, sometimes painful, rebuilding process looked to be (finally) coming in to bloom.
As if his efforts during the summer hadn’t been enough; GM Garth Snow really knocked it out of the park in early October, when he acquired Boychuk and Nick Leddy within hours of each other.
69 games later, the Islanders are second in the Metropolitan Division and the difference in this team, this franchise, is plain to see.
From a club that were perennial basement dwellers; the Islanders are now beginning to court a new adjective, one they have not heard for some time – contenders.
It’s fair to say the club is still a piece, or two, away from being considered a serious contender – as opposed to a ‘dark horse’, as many would fancy them now – but the progress this franchise has made over the past 12 months has been remarkable, and they now have a roster greater than the sum of its parts.
Allowing any of the parts to leave would jeopardise the ground work the club has put in over the last year, potentially setting them back rather than helping them drive forward.
Snow tied Leddy to a 7-year, $38.5 million extension in February – meaning Leddy, 23, is set to be an integral part of the team for the foreseeable future.
At 31, Boychuk is less ‘long haul’, but keeping him signifies the teams intention of ensuring that a successful team stays together. Signing the Edmonton native was high on everyone’s list, and Snow has gambled on term to keep a winning roster.
The influence Boychuk and Leddy have had on the Islanders has been tremendous. It’s why retaining both was seen as a priority, whilst also having the side benefit of further demonstrating that the Islanders are no longer a club free agents and pending free agents should avoid – Boychuk could have fetched more than his $6m/year the Isles offered him, but chose to stick around.
Perhaps that is partly because the Islanders were willing to pay him until he is 38, but sometimes that’s the risk General Managers have to take. Especially when so few who question the extension seem capable of truly answering the question – if the Isles lost Boychuk, who’d step in to the breach?
Reinhart and Pulock are blue chip prospects, but still at least a couple of years away from being leading NHL D men. You only need to look at Seth Jones or Tyler Myers to see that the NHL is a tough league for a young defenceman to step in to and excel consistently. A simple ‘swap Reinhart in for Boychuk’ sets the Islanders back, regardless of the 21-year olds long term potential.
The Isles are aware their window is opening – and they want to capitalise on it.
Moving forward they now possess a D core that will include Reinhart and Pulock along side Boychuk, Leddy and Hamonic in the coming seasons. That’s a solid foundation for any blue line to have.
Concerns whether the money spent on keeping Boychuk interferes with retaining the likes of Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome, break out star Brock Nelson or ‘depth’ additions like Michael Neuvirth (who’d be a heck of a backup to have!) seem moot when we consider Lubomir Visnovsky’s future (his $6m deal ends this summer), the $4.9m in cap space the team already has and finally being rid of Alexei Yashin’s contract – leaving Garth Snow with almost $13m to play with, even under the current cap.
So will the Islanders regret signing a 31-year old to a 7-year deal? Not if he’s sporting a couple of Cup rings they won’t.
And that is precisely what this deal is all about.