The New York Islanders have benefitted from the veteran leadership of Johnny Boychuk since signing him to a contract extension in 2015. Nonetheless, the Islanders may soon come to regret this very contract.
Since joining the team prior to the 2014-15 season, Johnny Boychuk has brought the New York Islanders a much-needed sense of toughness and legitimacy on the blueline. After finishing in last place in the Metropolitan Division in 2013-14, the Islanders finished second in the division and earned a playoff spot the next season, Boychuk’s first on the team.
In fact, the Islanders have made the playoffs during three of Boychuk’s five seasons on the team. This is not bad for a team that had previously placed at or near the bottom of the division with remarkable consistency.
In his first season, Boychuk recorded 35 points (9 goals, 26 assists), which was the second-highest mark among defensemen on the team. He also was second among Isles defensemen in hits (171) and he led the entire team in blocks (149).
Since then, Boychuk’s offensive production has gone down, but his defensive intensity has remained at a high level. Last season, Boychuk ranked in the top three for both blocks and hits by an Isles defenseman. This year, he leads all Isles defensemen in blocks and hits and may even set career-highs for both statistics.
So why might Johnny Boychuk be a problem? Let’s take a look at his contract.
That Contract Though
The contract extension that Boychuk signed was for seven years/$42 million and carries an AAV of $6 million. His $6 million cap hit is the highest among defensemen on the team and the second-highest among all players on the team.
Last offseason, Boychuk’s contract did not harm the Islanders much, as they still had $10.8 million in cap space (per Spotrac), enough to go after a high-profile free agent like Panarin.
This offseason, however, the Islanders are projected to only have about half that cap space, thanks to the contracts that Anders Lee and Brock Nelson signed last year. With Mathew Barzal set to be an RFA after this season, the Islanders will need to make some roster moves in order to have the cap space to resign him.
Despite more than proving his worth this season and over the past five seasons, Boychuk could have been one of the candidates to have been bought out or traded after this season.
For starters, at age 36, Boychuk is the oldest player on the team and is more than seven years older than any other defenseman on the team. Boychuk still has two years left on his contract after this season and will be 38 by the time his contract expires. As his age increases, we may start to see a drop in his production as well as him spending more time on injured reserve.
Of course, his performance so far this season has refuted the likelihood of either of those occurring, but a lot can still happen in the remainder of this season and over the next two seasons.
Furthermore, the Islanders have several young and talented defensemen. Players like Ryan Pulock, Devon Toews and Adam Pelech weren’t on the team in Boychuk’s first season. Instead, the Islanders’ defensive corps featured players such as Brian Strait and an aging Lubomir Visnovsky.
Clearly, the Islanders’ defense does not need to rely as much on Boychuk now as it did back then.
Regardless, even if Lou agreed with either of these points and wanted to move Boychuk after this season, he probably wouldn’t be able to.
The reason is that Boychuk’s remaining two years on his contract primarily consist of signing bonuses. When you buy-out a player’s contract that mostly consists of signing bonuses, there is little effect on the player’s cap hit post-buyout. This article from Pro Hockey Rumors goes more into depth about why this is the case.
Regardless, the point is that as Boychuk’s contract stands now, it carries a $6 million cap hit over each of the next two seasons. Per Cap Friendly, if the Isles were to buy-out Boychuk’s contract, it would still carry a $5.166 million cap hit over each of the next two seasons. This would provide little financial relief to the Islanders and would not be something that Lou would pursue.
Perhaps, the Islanders could find a team willing to take on Boychuk’s contract, but it is unlikely that many teams would be interested in such a contract for the 36-year old. Furthermore, Boychuk has a modified no-trade clause which lists only eight teams he can be traded to. This makes it even more difficult to find a suitor for him.
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The more likely thing to occur is that the Islanders look for other players to trade or buy-out. One candidate is Nick Leddy, as his contract contains no signing bonuses. While the 28-year old Leddy would almost certainly provide more worth to the Isles in the long run than would Boychuk, the Isles are forced to deal with the harsh reality that is Boychuk’s contract.
For now, we can only hope that Boychuk continues to stay healthy and play at a high level.