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Eye injury ends career of Islanders D Boychuk

New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk announced his retirement Wednesday due to an eye injury suffered during the 2019-20 NHL season.

“I don’t even think it was a decision. When you play with it and realize there’s something wrong, and then you go and get tests, it really wasn’t a decision; it was a life choice, I guess,” Boychuk said in a news conference. “If I was to go and play again and not able to see somebody coming and get hit, I could be a lot worse than what I was.”

Boychuk required stitches and plastic surgery after being cut across his right eyelid by the skate of Montreal Canadiens forward Artturi Lehkonen on March 3.

The 36-year-old defenseman played in 725 NHL games. He was drafted 61st overall in 2002 by the Colorado Avalanche, who traded him to the Boston Bruins in 2008. Boychuk played six seasons with the Bruins, establishing himself as a physical force in helping them win the Stanley Cup in 2011.

Boychuk was traded in 2014 to the Islanders, where he played 404 regular-season games, including 64 last season. He traveled with the Islanders to the postseason bubbles and appeared in three playoff games, missing a portion of the postseason after suffering a head injury in the preliminary-round series opener against the Florida Panthers. His final playoff game was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, where the Islanders were eliminated by the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

The retirement was somewhat of a surprise, given that Boychuk reported in June that his eye “seems to be almost like 100%” and that it was “nothing to have me worried about being on the ice again.”

The Islanders said the most recent injury was Boychuk’s second to the same eye and that he had undergone “numerous and extensive medical exams” before making the call to end his career.

“I knew there was something going on, but I didn’t really want to think about it because I wanted to play,” Boychuk said. “You try to play through everything, and I did. Then when I got the tests done, it was an eye opener, I guess.”

The retirement is financially advantageous for the Islanders. Boychuk, who had two years left on his contract, will be placed on long-term injured reserve, removing his $6 million cap hit from their ledger in 2020-21 and giving the Islanders around $9.9 million in cap space.

The Islanders reportedly have agreements in place with unrestricted free-agent forward Matt Martin, defenseman Andy Greene and goalie Cory Schneider. But the additional cap space that just opened up is crucial to their efforts to re-sign restricted free agent Mathew Barzal, the 23-year-old forward who led the team in scoring the past three seasons.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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