The Islanders announced today the sudden end of Johnny Boychuk’s hockey career, citing the eye injury he sustained this past season and the chronic vision problems he experienced afterwards.
The news was a shock, to say the least. Boychuk was cut in the eye by the skate of Montreal’s Artturi Lehkonen during a game in March, and required 90 stitches. After the NHL’s months-long pandemic pause, Boychuk was able to return for the Islanders’ play-in round against the Panthers in the summer. He took a high hit in that series’ first game and missed the majority of the Islanders’ march to the Eastern Conference Finals, returning for two games of their six game series against the Lightning.
But even during those three games in the bubble, Boychuk knew something wasn’t right. Via Arthur Staple in The Athletic:
“I didn’t see him coming and I realized I should have been able to, at least a little bit,” said Boychuk, who reported that his eye tests revealed optic nerve damage and a severe lack of peripheral vision. “I realized something was off then. And going back in (against the Lightning a month later), I noticed it for sure. Once we lost and I was out of the bubble, I definitely noticed it was worse than I thought … I knew there was something going on, but I didn’t want to think about it because I wanted to play. You try to play through everything, and I did.”
After returning home at the end of the season, he sought more diagnoses, but doctors came to the determination that continuing to play would be unsafe for him. With a family at home, the 36-year-old made the call to end his career and described the decision as a “life choice.”
You can watch his emotional Zoom call with media below. He talks about going to doctors for months, having optic nerve damage “and some other stuff” and having the decision to end your career put into very stark perspective. He gets choked up more than a few times. You will, too.
It’s here that we’ll note that Boychuk has not retired and most likely will not. He has two seasons remaining on his contract with the Islanders at an AAV of $6 million per. He has been placed on IR (according to CapFriendly) and will most likely be placed on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) later, which would allow GM Lou Lamoriello to exceed the salary cap by $6 million.
How this affects Lamoriello’s plans to sign restricted free agent Mathew Barzal, as well as UFAs Cory Schneider, Matt Martin and deadline acquisition Andy Greene, who filled in ably for Boychuk on defense throughout the playoffs, will become more clear in the next little while. All three reportedly have deals on the table that are just waiting to be signed.
Boychuk came to the Islanders in September of 2014 via a major trade with Boston, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2011. In the same stunning Saturday afternoon, Nick Leddy was also acquired by GM Garth Snow, and the two became D-partners for the better part of the next six seasons. They also both signed long term deals the following summer, helping the Islanders gain a measure of credibility and stability that they hadn’t had in quite a while.
In 404 games with the Islanders, Boychuk scored 35 goals and 96 assists for 131 points. In his first game in blue and orange, he unleashed a slapshot that few knew he had and scored the team’s first goal of the season. While he never became the powerplay weapon some of us may have envisioned (mainly due to his penalty killing duties), Boychuk was an all-situations, all-game, all-season, all-weather machine, scoring big goals, laying big hits, making big blocks and bringing that big grin game-in and game-out.
He became not just a reliable presence on the ice, but a beloved one off of it, too. Boychuk settled into the role of Team Dad, while also being the same smiling goofball he always was (Remember that menswear magazine photoshoot that included him and Leddy? Pepperidge Farm remembers.)
His loss will be a huge one for the Islanders (more so now without Devon Toews back there, too) and it’s a shame to see a player known for his perseverance have to leave the game this way. But it’s impossible to argue that he’s not making the right decision for him and his family.
Johnny Boychuk will be an Islanders legend forever. Feels like we’ll be seeing him around the Island a lot, even if he’s not in uniform.
On and off the ice, he’s one of a kind. Thank you @joboych. pic.twitter.com/SahfdXcQmJ— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) November 25, 2020
Johnny Rocket,absolute pleasure calling you a teammate and friend, a true role model and leader on and off the ice, #55 will be missed. pic.twitter.com/jS5W9octGJ— Ryan Pulock (@rpulock) November 25, 2020
Anyone who knows JB knows he is one of a kind in every way. He is a selfless teammate, who never backed down, shot every rimmed puck, has a heart of gold, and touch of moderns top customer. But above all he is always there for you.I’m lucky you call you my friend, Love you Beezy pic.twitter.com/qhS8Kkkm5g— Anders Lee (@leeberr09) November 25, 2020
A beauty on and off the ice and someone I looked up to! Congrats on a amazing career JB, you will be missed! @joboych https://t.co/ESgNmuegEW— Noah Dobson (@_ND53) November 25, 2020
One of the best teammates I’ve ever had. Warrior on the Ice, and a teddy bear off of it. The game of hockey will miss you @joboych! Love you my brother. ❤️ #JohnnyRocket https://t.co/nOHzIAYjLZ— Matt Martin (@mattymarts17) November 25, 2020
Congrats to my brother from another mother on a successful career. Sucks it had to end this way but was pleasure being your teammate and best friend for 5 year in boston. Love you bro #2011champs @joboych pic.twitter.com/vimiO8yYln— Milan Lucic (@27MilanLucic) November 25, 2020
What sad news. What an amazing career you have had man. One of the best I’ve ever played with. Best of luck in the future. @joboych pic.twitter.com/eUs5G17HNa— Robin Lehner (@RobinLehner) November 25, 2020
Everyone knows JB as the warrior that he is. But he’s truly more than that. JB gave this to me after scoring my first NHL goal. I will never forget a gesture like that from a guy I have always looked up to. Will miss you Beezy and congrats on an incredible career! @joboych pic.twitter.com/YRcyqAGafP— Devon Toews (@DevonToews6) November 25, 2020