Johnny Boychuk has led the leading scorer among all New York Islanders defenseman and, as of today, is the highest-paid player on the team. Boychuk signed a seven-year extension with an organization that has done a terrific job of locking up its core to long-term deals.
My goodness, has any general manager reinvented himself better than Garth Snow has? Once regarded as the backup goalie who was the ill-advised hire of a bizarre owner, Snow is putting himself into serious contention for the NHL’s GM of the year award.
Prior to this season, neither Johnny Boychuk nor Nick Leddy even played for the New York Islanders. Now, the two of them are clearly the lynchpins of the organization’s blueline corps and the two defensemen around whom the Islanders have staked much of their future. That much was apparent when Boychuk inked a seven-year deal with the Islanders worth $42 million. That signing came just two weeks after Leddy was signed to a seven-year extension worth $38.5 million.
Considering the fact Snow acquired both defensemen on the same day last fall, it’s only fitting that their extensions would be so similar and be signed at almost the same time. And Snow was able to get both players because he was a GM with a commodity in the form of cap space that neither of his trading partners had.
In a perfect world, Leddy would probably still be a member of the Chicago Blackhawks and Boychuk would be with the Boston Bruins. But Snow realized that GM Stan Bowman of the Blackhawks and Peter Chiarelli in Boston were getting squeezed by the salary cap and was able to get both of them for less than market value. He got Boychuk for second-round picks in 2015 and 2016 and a conditional third-rounder, which would have materialized only if Boychuk had been dealt this season, something that obviously will not happen now. Leddy was acquired from Chicago for Ville Pokka, Anders Nilsson and T.J. Brennan, three players who may never turn out to be NHL regulars.
Boychuk and Leddy, who’s currently out with an injury, have stabilized the Islanders defense corps and have been their top two scoring defensemen this season. Boychuk has brought a veteran presence to the lineup both on and off the ice and until Tyler Kennedy was acquired at the trade deadline, he and Leddy were the only players on the Islanders roster with a Stanley Cup on their resumes.
Now that Boychuk and Leddy are signed long-term, that means Snow’s top four defensemen are under contract for at least the next three seasons. Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan are also under contract through the 2017-18 season and Snow has the four of them for a combined cap hit of $15.4 million. And when it comes to other players who will be around for three more years after this one, you can include goalie Jaroslav Halak and forwards John Tavares, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Josh Bailey in that group. The total for all nine players comes to a pretty reasonable $39.5 million, which is pretty good considering you’ve got your franchise player, your top four defensemen and you’re No. 1 goaltender among that group of players.
And with Alexei Yashin’s $2.2 million hit finally coming off the books after this season, the Islanders have some room to lock up their young talent, or perhaps even acquire more of it from other teams, even if the salary cap dips below $70 million for the next couple of seasons. It will leave plenty of room to get Kyle Okposo signed to an extension, something Snow can begin to do as early as this summer, and youngsters Anders Lee and Ryan Strome under contract. Lee is scheduled to become a restricted free agent this summer, Strome in the summer of 2016.
Getting both Boychuk and Leddy under long-term deals was an absolute must for Snow and he has been able to check both off his to-do list with a month left in the season. His recent work has been nothing short of brilliant. Of course, he’s gotten extremely lucky as well and must thank the heavens every day that Thomas Vanek turned down his seven-year, $50 million offer last season. That’s probably about as often as Vanek is kicking himself these days for not accepting it. And it's not as though Snow is not taking a risk here giving a 31-year-old defenseman a seven-year deal.
But there’s no doubt Snow has grown into his job and the results are there for everyone to see. He has a contending team in the Eastern Conference and, by the looks of it, will have one for the foreseeable future in Brooklyn.