Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli got a head start on what is still likely to be a very busy off season in Beantown this summer, signing defenseman Johnny Boychuk to a 3-year contract extension that will carry a cap hit of $3.36 million. That still leaves Chiarelli with a sizable list of free agents, both unrestricted and restricted, to address before the 2012-2013 season, but it’s nice to see him being proactive and taking care of something that was clearly at the top of his to-do list early. After this season Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille, and Joe Corvo will all be unrestricted free agents while Benoit Pouliot and Tuukka Rask will become restricted free agents.
Clearly there is still some work to be done, with Tuukka Rask probably sticking out as the most important guy on that list, but for now let’s focus on the Boychuk deal.
At first blush, I’m sure a lot of the reaction to the amount of money Boychuk got in this deal will be that of shock considering he got a pretty decent raise from his current $1.85 million dollar a year contract. Also, when you look at his offensive numbers since he’s become a mainstay in the Boston lineup 2009, it certainly doesn’t help make his case for such a hefty pay raise, as he had 5 goals and 10 assists in his initial year here, followed by a season of 3 goals and 13 assists. To this point in the season he has only managed to tally 3 goals and 7 assists. Certainly not lofty numbers. However I think it’s important to look at the entire makeup of a player, and especially a defenseman, before making a final judgement on whether he is worth the money he makes.
In the case of Boychuk, there are a few things about his game and what he has done in Boston that warrant the kind of contract he received, which is a fairly standard contract for a top-4 defensemen in the NHL these days. First, he is a guy that really fits in well in a top-4 role and is someone who can really eat minutes on the back-end. For the B’s, Boychuk actually slots in on the first pairing playing alongside Zdeno Chara and so far this season has averaged just over 20 minutes a night. Granted he’s numb three on the depth chart as I’d say Dennis Seidenberg is probably the number 2, Boychuk is still an extremely important part of the Bruins d-corps.
On top of his ability to log important minutes, he has also proven that he is by no means a liability defensively, as he’s been a plus player in each of his three years with Boston, and as of right now is a +23 which is good for 5th best among all NHL defensemen. I’ve really been a fan of his game since he’s been in Boston. He’s been a very steady presence on the back-end. He’s an above average shot blocker, which is you look at a team like the New York Rangers, has become a pretty invaluable part of the game lately. He’s also someone who loves to bring a physical edge to the ice and has shown an ability for throwing those big, game changing types of hits.
And to be honest, I really believe there is a lot more offensive potential in his game despite the modest numbers he’s put up in three years with the Bruins. This is a guy who, in 2008-2009, won the award for best defenseman in the AHL playing with the Providence Bruins after posting an incredible season of 20 goals and 45 assists for 65 points. I also think he turned a bit of a corner with his play during last year’s playoff run as he scored 3 goals and 9 assists during the B’s run to the Cup. Despite his slow offensive season thus far, I feel he certainly has the ability to become the kind of defensemen who can give you a solid defensive game, play some big minutes and score somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 goals. He has an absolute cannon of a slap shot and likes to jump into the play offensively when the opportunity presents itself. He also gets time on the power play, mainly because of his shot. A guy like that though is valuable in today’s explosive and offense-heavy NHL.
I think the main reason for Boychuk’s raise though, lies in his formerly impending status as an unrestricted free agent. He’s a guy who, at 28 years of age, still sits firmly in his prime. It was likely that had Chiarelli waited and allowed Boychuk to hit the open market he could have garnered offers north of the $4 million range. A comparable guy is the Hurricanes Tim Gleason, who plays a similar physical, stay at home type of game and probably is more limited offensively then Boychuk while being a bit more solid defensively. Gleason is currently in the middle of a contract that pays him just over $4 million a year. Also, you can look at guys like Tomas Kaberle ($4.25 mill) and James Wisniewski ($5.5 mill) to know that with Johnny B at $3.3 million for the next three years, the Bruins locked up a known commodity, someone who has entrenched himself into the Bruins top-4 and who has developed some really good chemistry with big Z, for a pretty reasonable price.
I for one am glad that Boychuk will be sticking around. Hopefully we can see a lot more of this over the course of the next three years: