There was some news this week from the New York Islanders after weeks of radio silence as the league and players association attempt to hammer out details of the 2021 season.
Johnny Boychuk, 36, who suffered a terribly scary looking skate cut to his eyelid on March 3 that required 90 stitches, has been told he cannot play for some time. It was not announced as a retirement, leaving open the slim possibility for a return at some point, likely after his contract with the Islanders runs its course in two seasons. Admittedly, that would be a long stretch, especially considering the way Boychuk spoke to the gathered media via Zoom.
"The injury's causing me to stop playing, so I don't know if it's retiring or injured reserve," Boychuk said. "I just know it's going to cause me to not play because it's basically not safe for me if I can't see things coming. For the future, I have no idea what to do. This has been two months of going to doctors, and I'm trying to think about what I can do after, but I'm not too sure yet. I want to be on the Island, obviously. We built a house there. There were no plans on leaving. But I just don't know."
"My peripheral vision is pretty bad," Boychuk said, with tears welling up in his eyes. "And I think they said there's some optic nerve damage and other stuff, but it's been hard to process everything. I went and did all the tests and it's just been hard, 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."
Boychuk played two games against the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final, though he said “I knew there was something going on" with the eye.
"There's some damage that has been diagnosed as irreversible, I guess," he said. "There could be something (procedure) that can help me, but there's some that's not going to come back and that's what I've been told."
Boychuk went on to say it wasn’t a “career decision, but a life one”.
The statistics are not mind-blowing, but let me assure you Boychuk was a truly valued member of both the Boston Bruins across six seasons and the Islanders for the following six. He played in 725 games and compiled 54 goals, 152 assists, 206 points, 331 penalty minutes and 1326 blocked shots. He appeared in 104 playoff games, posting 13-17-30 and winning a Stanley Cup in 2011.
His light-hearted, calm and jovial demeanor in the locker room should never be mistaken for softness, as Boychuk gave all he had for every one of those 725 games. It was something they all gravitated toward. You could hear their genuine sadness, followed by well wishes in the messages he received yesterday from current and former teammates. His presence in the room on game day will be missed in a significant way.
For team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, he seems to have gotten a lucky break with the unfortunate Boychuk news. Unable to swing a trade to dump any of the weighty contracts that are on the books, and Mathew Barzal, Matt Martin and Andy Greene needing deals, he now finds himself almost $10 million to the good, with a likely move for Andrew Ladd and his $5.5 the next to come.
That just might be what Lamoriello needs to also add a scoring punch to a roster that desperately needs it.
God speed Rocket. Thanks for six, vigorous, competitive, respectful seasons as an Islander. Where you never wavered and always gave 110%. Lou? It’s your move, sir.