When Johnny Boychuk takes to the Boston Garden ice tonight, he will receive an ovation so heartfelt and raucous that anyone in attendance who is unfamiliar with his story will have no choice but to conclude he was so much more integral than the reality reveals.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. That’s how it goes when you’re welcoming back someone you wish had never left — especially someone who recently left, and against his own wishes, too.
Boychuk spent six seasons with the Bruins after coming over from Colorado for Matt Hendricks in June 2008. After scoring 20 goals for Providence in 2008-09 — his fifth different AHL stop in five seasons — he got his shot with the Bruins and seized it. With his cool name, cooler nickname…
… as well as a big shot, intrinsic toughness, and a knack for having his teammates’ back, he became a fan favorite, one of those players, like Kevin Faulk with the Patriots for so many years, who understandably won the appreciation of the fans even if he not a superstar.
You hate seeing dependable guys like that go — Kendrick Perkins with the Celtics was another — especially when the trade improves the bottom line rather than the roster in which championship contention is the expectation.
Eight games into the season, the October 4 deal that sent him to the Islanders for second-round picks in 2015 and ’16 still weighs heavily as a disappointment. It hasn’t helped that, given more opportunity on the power play than he ever had here, he’s been outstanding so far for the Islanders, averaging a point per game.
The Bruins are not a better team without Boychuk than they were with him, and the question persists as he returns to tonight: Did they really have to trade him now? Maybe it will end up being a decent value deal — it’s always wise to hold off declaring Islanders general manager Garth Snow the winner of a trade — but if the intent is to win now, maybe they should have just kept him and let him play out his option.
Taking sentiment out of the equation, this was probably the right move for the long term. But fans wouldn’t be fans if they weren’t emotional and attached to certain players. Sentiment never comes out of the equation. Bruins fans wish Boychuk was still here. And they’re going to let him know this at an impressively high decibel level tonight.
The frustration is understood here. I liked the guy, too. He was one of those players whom you’d talk to and think as you were walking away, “That’s a normal dude. Why can’t everyone be like that?”
But the notion that this is the result of some kind of roster-depleting incompetence by Peter Chiarelli is taking the argument at least three strides offsides, maybe four. Yes, Chiarelli is the man primarily responsible for the Bruins being up against the cap. You know why?
He’s signed their core players to long-term deals. They have paid their prime-of-career players well.
Is that, you know, what you want a general manager to do, first and foremost? Or do you prefer the Sinden Method, with Raymond Bourque setting a low bar on the salary scale and the likes of Cam Neely, Adam Oates, and so on always ending up one player and a couple of victories short.
Chiarelli is building a team that can compete for the Cup annually while retaining those who are the most responsible for the success. Seems like a pretty decent strategy to me, one the Blackhawks followed to their second Cup victory of this decade. It’s Belichickian, even. Consider:
Their Vezina-winning goalie, Tuukka Rask, signed an eight-year, $56 million deal in July 2013. That same month, Patrice Bergeron — on a very brief list of the best all-around players in the league — signed an eight-year, $52 million deal. Think he would have received more in free agency? What would the Canadiens throw at a player like him?
Their other fine two-way center, David Krejci, signed a six-year, $43.5 million deal in September. The Bruins have been to the Cup Finals twice in the previous four years, winning once. Both times, Krejci was the leading scorer in the playoffs.
Their top two defensemen/cyborgs, Zdeno Chara (seven-year, $45.5 million extension in 2010) and Dennis Seidenberg (four year, $16 million extension in October) are here for the long haul. Neither is a young player, but the reasonable hope is the likes of Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug (offensively, anyway) will ascend as they begin to decline.
This team is steady and talented up the middle, which is where roster construction should always begin. I’m not suggesting every contract Chiarelli has awarded has been the right thing to do — Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand haven’t always performed to their salaries, though they are hardly busts. But I do believe that his occasional bad deals cannot be discussed without also acknowledging his many good decisions.
It’s a bummer Boychuk is gone. The same goes for Jarome Iginla, who fit so well on the first line during his single season here. And there are more difficult decisions ahead as Krug, Hamilton, Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith come up for new contracts and big raises.
Other bills are coming due, and the Bruins won’t be able to pay all of them. But given their recent history, they will pay the right ones — those who show true core-player potential. It’s the smart approach to prolonged success. Even if it means letting another fan-favorite go.