Even though the two were brought in separately, the acquisitions of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy will always be synonymous within the lore of the New York Islanders. As the season was less than one week from its start, GM Garth Snow shocked the Islanders faithful with some Sunday morning news that the team had acquired the former Stanley Cup champions in separate trades.
The Islanders were heading into the 2014-15 season coming off another disappointing year where they missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons, finishing last in the Metropolitan division with 79 points. The Isles finished the season allowing 261 goals against (3rd worst in the NHL) and were an abysmal 78.1% on the penalty kill (2nd worst in the NHL). The team was in desperate need of an upgrade among the defensive core.
"We had looked to upgrade in a few different areas this summer. We addressed for the most part the forward position and the goaltending. And it just so happened today we were able to add two key additions to our team. It's obviously a good day for our club."- Former Islanders GM, Garth Snow
Both the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks were pressed up against the cap ceiling with Boychuk and Leddy due for new contracts at season's end. The two players had to be moved, or each team would likely lose them for nothing as they entered free agency following the season.
By bringing in Boychuk, the Islanders added some much-needed toughness and leadership along the blue line. Snow sent a second-round pick in both '15 and '16 along with a '15 conditional third-round pick to Boston in exchange for the Edmonton native.
"We have a pretty good prospect pool of defensemen; Reinhart, Pulock, Mayfield, Pelech, which makes the draft picks (two seconds and a conditional third) a little more expendable when you get a quality return in John Boychuk."- Former Islanders GM, Garth Snow
Boychuk was a mainstay for the Bruins in the six seasons he spent in Boston. As a key piece to the cup-winning team in 2011, the Isles were hoping he could bring some veteran leadership along with experience in knowing what it takes to bring home the greatest trophy in sports. By coming to Long Island, Boychuk would see the ice in all situations with the Isles and have the opportunity to be a major influence on his teammates. He would prove this true in the Islanders' first game of the season by scoring the team's first goal of the campaign, on the power play against the Carolina Hurricanes.
In return, the Bruins benefitted from the trade with the Islanders as well. With their second-round pick (37th overall) in '15, the Bruins selected Brandon Carlo, who is still a mainstay with the Bruins logging top four minutes along the blue line. In '16, Boston would select Ryan Lindgren (49 overall) who would never really crack the everyday lineup and would eventually be traded to the New York Rangers in a deal for Rick Nash. Lindgren is now one of the top defensemen for the Rangers paired with Norris Trophy winner, Adam Fox.
Though Boychuk was not brought to the Isles to score goals, he finished his first season with the blue and orange scoring a career-high of nine. Boychuk was brought in to be more of a stay-at-home defenseman who protected his end of the ice more than push play offensively. The offensive part of the game would be more of a task for Leddy, his new teammate and partner.
Another former Stanley Cup champion, Leddy's prime days were still dawning on him. Two seasons prior, Leddy and the Blackhawks defeated Boychuk and the Bruins, winning the Stanley Cup. Fast forward to September 2015, Leddy became the newest member of the Islanders at 23 years old.
Leddy was acquired from Chicago in exchange for TJ Brennan, Ville Pokka, and Anders Nilsson. Paired with each other for the majority of their time on Long Island, Leddy was the perfect lightning to Boychuk's thunder.
In five of his seven seasons with the Islanders, Leddy lead the defense in points, finishing with a career-high of 46 in 2015-16. Leddy's superb skating along with his one-man breakout potential made him one of the most valuable Islanders during his prime years. He would become a stalwart on the first power play unit for most of his time with the Isles typically controlling the point.
The trade wound up being quite a lopsided one in favor of the Islanders. Pokka was a defensive project that the team liked but was willing to move on from. He would spend four seasons with the Blackhawks organization playing all of his games with the team's AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs. He never made it to the NHL and has bounced around the KHL and SHL the last four seasons.
Brennan was signed by the Islanders to a one-year deal during free agency and would never make it to the start of the season with the organization. After appearing in 54 games in Rockford, Brennan would leave the Blackhawks organization and head to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Following a few more seasons in North America - mostly in the AHL, Brennan, like Pokka would take his talents over to Europe.
Nilsson would never sign with the Blackhawks and wound up spending the 2014-15 season in KHL. He has since returned to North America where he has been a bit of a nomad across the league.
When it's all said and done, none of the assets the Blackhawks received from the Islanders ever saw any ice time with the club at the NHL level. Meanwhile, Leddy played in 518 regular season games and 67 playoff games with the Isles.
The acquisition of Boychuk and Leddy could be looked at as a tipping point for the Islanders as a franchise. For the better part of two decades prior, the team was looked at as a bit of a laughing stock around the league. Whether it be John Spano, the fisherman sweater, or the asbestos-ridden Nassau Coliseum, respect for the Isles was at an all-time low.
Once the two defensemen joined the Islanders, they made the playoffs in four of the next six seasons including the team's first series victory in 22 years (2015-16) and a trip to the Stanley Cup semi-finals during Boychuk's final season (2019-20).
About two weeks before the NHL and the world shut down due to the COVID pandemic, Boychuk took a skate to the eye in a game against the Montreal Canadiens. Boychuk received 90 stitches from the incident, shutting him down for the next five months. He returned for three games in the semi-finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning before being shut down once again. It was the last we would see of Boychuk in an NHL uniform.
"My peripheral vision is pretty bad, actually, and I think they said there's some optic nerve damage and other stuff, but it's been hard to process everything at the same time. I went and did all these tests and it's just been hard, actually really hard. When somebody tells you that you're not going to play again, or you shouldn't, or else you're going to get seriously hurt, it's been really tough"- Johnny Boychuk
Leddy saw one more full season with the Isles the following season. GM Lou Lamoriello spent most of the summer trying to create cap space, making Leddy and Andrew Ladd the two casualties of cap dumps. A few months later, Boychuk's contract was shipped off to the Buffalo Sabres, where he would be placed on LTIR.
Not only were the two brought in together but they were also essentially shipped out together. When it comes to the Isles' history books, the two will always be mentioned together and will go down as two of the most important Islanders acquisitions of the modern day.