The New York Islanders announced on Wednesday afternoon that veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk is retiring due to an eye injury he suffered last season before the COVID-19 hiatus.
“I kind of felt it in the bubble a little bit but when I got out I started to work out and I really realized that there was something wrong,” Boychuk said. “I went and got it checked out, after I got it checked out I let Lou know what was going on and that’s basically how it happened. It’s been two months of going to doctors and MRIs and x-rays. It’s been a lot, it’s been a while.”
“It wasn’t a decision, it was a life choice.”
Boychuk was cut near the eye area by the skate of Montreal Canadiens forward Artturi Lehkonen during a game on March 3. The injury needed 90 stitches to repair just a week before the sport was shut down because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“My peripheral vision is pretty bad actually. There’s some optic nerve damage and some other stuff,” Boychuk said. “It’s been hard to process everything at the same time but I went and did all these tests and it’s just been 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 getting really tough.”
Though NHL play resumed in August, Boychuk was used in a limited role after taking a hit to the head in the preliminary round series against the Florida Panthers. Upon getting the OK to return, he served mostly as an extra defenseman behind veteran defenseman Andy Green, who was acquired in February from the New Jersey Devils. He appeared in three postseason games in total, including two during the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I knew there was something going on but I didn’t want to think about it because I wanted to play,” Boychuk said. “You try to play through everything, and I did.”
Boychuk spent six seasons with the Islanders after he was acquired from the Boston Bruins just before the start of the 2014-15 season. His acquisition along with fellow blueliner Nick Leddy’s from the Chicago Blackhawks ushered in a new era of Islanders hockey as they posted their first 100-point season in over 30 years.
“After we got traded and then signing with the Islanders, I think everyone saw the transformation of how the team conducted themselves,” Boychuk said. “With Lou [Lamoriello] and Barry [Trotz] coming in halfway through my time on the Island, it’s just been getting better and better as well. It will continue to get better and better because we play for each other. We always will.”
He skated in 404 games with the Islanders, recording 35 goals, 96 assists, and a plus-34 rating while averaging just over 20 minutes of ice time per game. Only six Islanders defensemen have skated more games for the team in franchise history.
In total, Boychuk spent 13 seasons in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche, Bruins, and Islanders, winning a Stanley Cup championship with Boston in 2011.
“To be able to play for Boston and for the Islanders, I’m grateful for everything that I’ve ever gotten,” Boychuk said. “And I’ve had to work hard for everything I’ve ever gotten as well. It’s been a fun time, it’s been tough at times, but I’ve enjoyed every moment.”