It isn’t exactly fair to speculate about a pro athlete’s health, but if we were doing a pool on which Islanders regular defenseman will miss the most games to injury this season, how many of you wouldn’t say Johnny Boychuk?
Not that it’s his fault; it’s just nature and circumstance.
Boychuk doesn’t shy from the physical side of the game, he’s coming off knee surgery (after trying to play through the injury for much of 2017-18), and at age 34 (he’ll turn 35 in January) he is the oldest member of the Islanders blueline.
In fact, unless Dennis Seidenberg makes yet another return via his PTO, Boychuk will be the oldest member of the team, period. All that adds up to us looking his way when forecasting opportunities for the defensive prospects knocking on the door.
When the Islanders signed Boychuk to a seven-year extension four years ago, they knew what they were signing up for — commitment to a physical, not-exactly-fleet-footed defenseman’s age 31-37 seasons, with him turning 38 during the last season of the deal. It was the price of stability for a franchise that had finally upgraded its defense with the major preseason acquisitions of him and Nick Leddy.
In the tradition of so many NHL contracts, Boychuk’s contract was inked by a general manager who wouldn’t be around to see the end of it.
Now, if the bill isn’t coming due, the invoice notices are at least at the printer. In his four seasons with the Islanders, Boychuk has averaged 66.5 games played per season, with the two most recent seasons marked by 66 and 58 games. That’s a trend heading in the wrong direction, of course, though the hope is that the decision to have surgery will lead to a better, healthier season in 2018-19.
Still, even if the surgery extends Boychuk’s health and usefulness for more of his remaining contract than would have otherwise been the case, that first year after surgery is often the toughest for an athlete. They have to rebuild strength and confidence in the problem joint. They have to convince themselves that they’ve rebuilt that strength. They work to overcome hesitation, restore instinct, and get a better understanding of which pains are “uh oh, problem area?” and which are related to working through the full rehab.
So no, of course we don’t know if Boychuk will stay health this season. But even if he sees no new injuries, it’s reasonable to expect some rest days and perhaps even short-term setbacks.
Which means although the Islanders are crowded with one-way contracts on the blueline, the other Islanders defensemen chasing jobs — Sebastian Aho, Devon Toews (on a one-way, but waiver exempt), Yannick Rathgeb and other Bridgeport-bound fellows — can expect that sooner or later there will be opportunities to make an impression.