The Islanders were busy during the Summer of 2014. They brought in two new goaltenders (Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson) and two high-priced forwards (Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin). As the final season at the Nassau Coliseum was set to begin, the Islanders were lacking in one key area, defensemen.
General manager Garth Snow tried to address the problem before. Snow offered impending unrestricted free agent Andrew MacDonald a four-year contract worth $16 million dollars. MacDonald turned it down and was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2014 trade deadline. The Isles somehow got a 2nd and 3rd round pick for him. The 2nd round pick would come in handy later. Snow took a gamble following the season and acquired the rights to Dan Boyle from the San Jose Sharks. The Isles had just under a month to convince the veteran defenseman to sign. Snow had more time than he did back in 2011, when he acquired the rights to Christian Ehrhoff from the Vancouver Canucks. A day later, Snow traded his rights to Buffalo after negotiations broke down. The Islanders had the same luck with Boyle. But this time they let the defenseman walk on July 1.
A Pretty Good Plan B
Snow shifted his focus from free agents to salary-cap strapped teams. He took his time and waited until teams had to make a move and then he pounced. On October 4, 2014, Snow, in separate moves, acquired defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy. Boychuk was acquired from the Boston Bruins for two second-round picks (one acquired in the MacDonald trade) and a conditional third round pick. Leddy was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks for defensemen T.J. Brennan, Ville Pokka and goaltender Anders Nilsson. Boychuk was upset about leaving Boston and the hockey world misconstrued it as he did not want to join the Islanders. That Boychuk was one and done on the Island, or even sooner if the Isles were out of the playoff picture.
If the rumors of Boychuk being upset about playing with the Islanders were true, he did not show it on the ice. Leddy and Boychuk immediately became the team’s top pairing. Boychuk busted out of the gate scoring 2 goals and 2 assists in the team’s first three games. Boychuk, relegated to the third pairing in Boston, proved he was a top-pairing defenseman as he set career highs with 9 goals, 26 assists and 35 points last season. “Johnny Rocket” became a leader on and off of the ice.
Snow had to sign both defensemen. Nick Leddy would be the easier of the two as he was a restricted free agent. That deal got done in February as Leddy signed a 7-year deal worth $38.5 million dollars. One down, one to go. Snow knew he had to sign Boychuk before the season ended. He would have been the most sought after defenseman on the open market. 16 days after signing Leddy, Snow signed Boychuk to a 7-year deal worth $42 million dollars.
Yes! Yes! Yes! For seven more years!!
— Johnny Boychuk (@joboych) March 12, 2015
Boychuk’s decision to take less money and sign with the Islanders proved that the organization that was shunned by the likes of Thomas Vanek, Dan Boyle, and Christian Ehrhoff is a favorable destination.
“Johnny’s influence in our dressing room, both on and off the ice, has been immeasurable,” Islanders General Manager Garth Snow said. “His veteran presence is an asset that we are thrilled to help lead our club.”
Noel Fogelman is a 5-time Emmy Winner and started his career working on the Buffalo Sabres Pre and postgame shows for the Empire Sports Network. He then went to Bristol, CT to work at ESPN on NHL2Night and its coverage of the Stanley Cup. Follow me on Twiter @thefirstnoel19