To hear Garth Snow explain it, re-signing Johnny Boychuk was about more than just an extension.
“Johnny’s influence in our dressing room, both on and off the ice, has been immeasurable,” the Isles GM said upon announcing Boychuk’s seven-year, $42 million deal, per the club website. “His veteran presence is an asset that we are thrilled to help lead our club.”
The symbolism of Boychuk’s contract is obvious. For the first time in a long time, a veteran actually chose the Islanders; Christian Ehrhoff and Dan Boyle balked at the idea after Snow acquired their negotiating rights, and the Thomas Vanek thing… well, you know how that turned out.
That Boychuk opted not to test free agency is important, and shouldn’t be undersold. At 31, he could’ve gone unrestricted and likely been the prize of this summer’s defenseman class which, given the lucrative deals Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik signed in Washington, had to be tempting.
But Boychuk didn’t bite.
“Ever since I came to the Islanders, the organization has been incredible to both myself and my family,” Boychuk explained. “I am proud to be an Islander and look forward to competing every night in front of such a passionate fan base for many years to come.”
In terms of the Islanders’ on-ice product, the length of Boychuk’s contract is key. It represents another building block in a defensive foundation that should stand for years, as he, Nick Leddy (who’s seven-year, $38.5 million extension was meaningful as well) and Travis Hamonic are all under contract through 2020. Combined with a slew of young blueline prospects on the horizon — including a pair of former first-rounders in Ryan Pulock and Griffin Reinhart — the Isles should be absolutely loaded on defense for the foreseeable future.
Of course, the length of this deal could play a different role down the road.
Boychuk will be 38 when the contract expires, a scary number but one that’s part of doing business with a pending UFA. Snow had to sacrifice something in order to get Boychuk to agree to a fairly reasonable cap hit — it’s quite possible he could’ve received more money on the open market — and that sacrifice was term.
Snow agreed to this knowing the risk. Top-flight NHL defensemen are required to play a physical game and big minutes, neither of which help longevity, and we’re seeing that play out across the league this season — like in Boston, where Boychuk’s ex-teammate Zdeno Chara no longer appears to be the dominant force he once was.
Chara, not coincidentally, turns 38 next week.
But those concerns are for a later date. For an Islanders organization that’s headed back to the playoffs and entering its new Brooklyn-based digs next season, the time to strike is now. Today’s big signing confirms it.