Unlike Some Others, Johnny Boychuk Stayed With The Islanders

Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire

When you’re a fan of a team, you always remember when a player does something special even if the ultimate goal of winning a championship is not reached.

Mets fans will always revere Robin Ventura for the “Grand Single” in the 1999 NLCS and Edy Chavez for “The Catch” in game seven of the 2006 NLCS.  The Mets lost both series.

Knicks fans will always remember John Starks for “The Dunk” in the 1993 playoff series against the Chicago Bulls.  The Knicks lost that series.

And Islanders fans will always remember Shawn Bates for the game winning penalty shot goal in game four of the 2002 opening round playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, a series that the Islanders lost in seven games.  There was also the John Tavares overtime goal in game three against the Capitals in 2015, but the Islanders lost that series in seven games.

The 2014-15 season was the Islanders’ “final” season at Nassau Coliseum before moving to Brooklyn but it was also Johnny Boychuk’s first season with Islanders after coming over in a trade from the Boston Bruins on October 4th, 2015, the same day that the Islanders acquired defenseman Nick Leddy from the Chicago Blackhawks.  After then General Manager Garth Snow swung those two trades, Islanders fans had to wonder if both of those players would be leaving Long Island as fast as they arrived, you know…kind of like some others in the past.

Remember when the Islanders acquired Kirk Muller from Montreal in April of 1995?  He wanted no part of the Islanders and was eventually dealt to Toronto in January of 1996.

Remember when the Islanders acquired Ryan Smyth at the trading deadline in 2007?  He wound up leaving as a free agent that off-season.

And remember when the Islanders dealt fan favorite Matt Moulson to the Buffalo Sabres in a deal that brought Thomas Vanek to Long Island in October of 2013?  They couldn’t get Vanek to sign a contract extension and the Islanders then shipped him to Montreal at the trade deadline on March 4th, 2014 for a conditional second round pick and Sebastian Collberg.

Johnny Boychuk Embraced Being An Islander:

But Boychuk was different.

On March 12th, 2015, less than five months after he was acquired, Boychuk signed a seven-year extension worth $42 million.  He wanted to be an Islander.  He wanted to be on Long Island.

“I’ve seen it before where guys would come to the Island and then leave within a year or two,” said Boychuk during a Zoom meeting with reporters on Wednesday to discuss the end of his NHL playing career.  “It’s a good place to play and to be with your family.  It will continue to just get better and better.  I think the fans realized it. I didn’t realize it at the time when I first got traded but after being there for a year, I realized what it was to be an Islander and you take pride in it.”

April 30, 2016: Johnny Boychuck (55) of the New York Islanders clears the puck before Ryan Callahan (24) of the Tampa Bay Lightning can finish his check during the second game of the 2016 second round NHL Eastern Conference playoff game between the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. (Photograph by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire)

And he’s been a fan-favorite ever since and he helped the Islanders get to the playoffs four times in six seasons.

Boychuk Calls It A Career, But His Time With The Islanders Was Special: 

As it turns out, Boychuk’s final game of his Islanders and NHL career was game six of the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay this past season.  That’s because Boychuk can no longer continue playing as a result of an eye injury that he suffered against Montreal on March 3rd at Barclays Center.  Boychuk returned for game one of the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round against Florida but was knocked out of that game with a concussion and then returned for the final two games against Tampa Bay.

But after numerous and extensive medical exams, Boychuk’s career is over as a result of a second injury to the same eye.

“I kind of felt it in the bubble a little bit but when I got out, I started to work out and I really realized that there was something wrong,” said Boychuk.  “So, I went and got it checked out and after I got it checked out, I let Lou know what was going on and that’s basically how it happened and it’s been like two months of going to doctors and MRI’s and X-rays.”

UNIONDALE, NY – JANUARY 17: New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuck (55) watches a puck he just passed during a game between the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils on January 17, 2018 at the Nassau Veterans Memorials Coliseum / NYCB Live in Uniondale, NY. (Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire)

Boychuk welled up a few times during the emotional Zoom meeting, sometimes when discussing the reality that his career was over, but also when reflecting on his time with the Islanders and how he’s grown to love life on Long Island.

“Just getting traded…we got traded together me and Nick…partners for the whole time actually for the most part,” said Boychuk who at times during the meeting was fighting back tears.  “Meeting the people on the Island from the arena attendants to the security guards to the media, the players, the coaches, the staff…I mean the management, the owners, meeting all these great people.”

After an emotional pause, Boychuk continued to talk about how he will remember his time with the Islanders.

“There have been so many good memories,” said Boychuk.  “My neighbors.  Playing hockey for the Islanders and getting to meet all the great ones that have played for the Islanders.  You see them all around and you get to talk to them.  Playing with so many great players on the Island as well.  Going into the bubble was a good memory.  We went pretty far and we were disappointed at the end but we did great things this year.  There’s been so many good memories.  It’s tough to process everything at one time.”

What’s Next For Boychuk: 

Now that Boychuk’s playing career is over at the age of 36, the question is will he stay involved with the Islanders and hockey in general?  Boychuk certainly has a great personality and would be a natural on the broadcast side if MSG or perhaps another outlet wanted to bring him aboard.  It’s also possible that Boychuk could have another role with the Islanders, because as he put it on Wednesday…he has planted seeds on Long Island with his family.

“I’m trying to think about what I can do after (playing) but I’m not too sure yet,” said Boychuk.  “I want to be on the Island obviously.  We built a house there so I mean there are no plans on leaving.  I just don’t know.”

While it’s sad that Boychuk’s playing career is over, his time with the Islanders should be celebrated because of what he has meant to the franchise.  For some players over the last 25 years or so, getting traded to the Islanders was not a happy occasion and the reasons for that have been well documented.  But Boychuk was different and you can also make the same case for Leddy who also signed an extension and is still an Islander.  Boychuk helped change the culture with the Islanders and that, along with his accomplishments on the ice, could very well land him in the Islanders’ Hall of Fame one day.

“I think everybody has seen the transformation of how the team conducted themselves,” said Boychuk.  “With Lou (Lamoriello) and Barry (Trotz) coming in halfway through my time on the Island, it’s been getting better and better and it will continue to get better and better.  It’s been a nice transformation and I’m sure the fans have noticed it and (the Islanders) will be a tough team to play against for a long time. That’s what we wanted to bring and that’s why I signed long term with the Islanders.”

Johnny Boychuk’s Islanders career was filled with blistering goals, punishing hits and other terrific plays on both ends of the ice.  But on Wednesday November 25th, 2020, the day before Thanksgiving and the day that Johnny Boychuk was forced to call it a career, the Islanders and their fans should be thankful for the one thing that number 55 did for the franchise that will resonate for years.

He put pen to paper on a contract extension when other players in the past would never dare do such a thing.

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter Schwartz is a contributor covering the Islanders for NY Sports Day while also writing about general sports in the New York/New Jersey area. In addition to his column, Peter also hosts his “Schwartz On Sports” podcast as he interviews players, coaches, and other sports personalities. He is also currently a sports anchor for WFAN Radio, CBS Sports Radio, and WCBS 880 radio while also serving as the public address announcer for the New York Cosmos soccer club.

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