The New York Islanders found out on Wednesday that defenseman Johnny Boychuk‘s career is coming to an end due to an eye injury he suffered in March.
Combined with the earlier trade of Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche, that means the Islanders have now lost two of their top-six defensemen from this past season.
Given the team’s salary cap situation there was always the possibility they were going to have to find a way to jettison Boychuk’s contract, but now that he is officially not returning it still leaves another pretty big hole on their defense and creates some intriguing questions for the next few weeks.
It also helps clear the way for their most important offseason move.
The Salary Cap Impact And Getting Barzal Re-Signed
Trading Toews and Boychuk going to LTIR is going to have a significant impact on their salary cap situation.
Before Wednesday’s news the Islanders were just a little more than $3 million under the salary cap for this upcoming season with several moves to make.
Not only do they need to find the room to re-sign their franchise player — restricted free agent Mathew Barzal — but they are also rumored to have pending deals UFA deals with Matt Martin, Andy Greene, and Cory Schneider in place.
The Boychuk news gives them an additional $6 million to work with.
Barzal figures to take up a significant portion of that that space, and depending on the team it could be range anywhere from $7 million, to perhaps even $9 or $10 million on the high end.
Getting him signed is the most important move for the Islanders, and something had to give with the salary cap before they could.
Now they can.
Do they need to add another defenseman?
While Boychuk may not be the player he was when he first arrived in New York, losing him and Toews in one offseason is a significant blow to their defense.
The Islanders are still bringing back a solid group with Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, and Nick Leddy at the top. Noah Dobson is also still waiting in the wings for his opportunity.
There is also the possibility of Greene re-signing. The Islanders acquired him at the trade deadline this past season to add some depth, and his performance over the past couple of years has been virtually identical to Boychuk’s. He should be a good replacement over a full season.
Still, it does make you wonder if the Islanders would have reconsidered the Toews trade had they known what was going to happen with Boychuk just a few weeks later. Even with a Greene re-signing that still leaves the Islanders with only seven NHL defenders under contract for this season, and Toews would be an upgrade over several of them. The salary cap space would still be an issue (Toews signed for $4 million per year in Colorado), but it would have been manageable. Especially if they end up using LTIR with Andrew Ladd‘s contract.
The free agent market is slim at this point, but Zdeno Chara, Sami Vatanen, Ben Hutton, and Slater Koekkoek would probably be the best available options.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.