If there were any uneasiness for Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy when this season began, it's long gone now. The Isles' two veteran defensemen leave for the year disappointed at the team's seven-game ouster in the opening round, but secure in knowing they will be back to much the same group next season.
"I wouldn't have signed here if I didn't believe in this team and obviously, I do," Boychuk said after his exit interview with Garth Snow, Jack Capuano and the rest of the coaching staff Wedenesday. "We have a lot of young guys who didn't have much playoff experience, but now they can use this moving forward."
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Leddy and Boychuk came to the Isles in trades with the Hawks and Bruins an hour apart on Oct. 4, joining the team less than a week before the regular season. The first few months were a whirlwind, but both Stanley Cup winners decided they liked what they were a part of: Leddy, a potential restricted free agent, signed a seven-year, $38.5 million extension on Feb. 24 and Boychuk followed with a seven-year, $42-million extension on March 13.VoteIslanders 2016-17: Keep 'em or dump 'em?
They both have been through the unhappiness of losing close playoff series before and bounced back -- Leddy's Hawks lost an overtime Game 7 to the Canucks in 2011 before winning it all two seasons later. Boychuk's Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead to the Flyers in 2010 before winning the Cup a season later.
"Using [those losses the] next year to go far in the playoffs and use that as motivation," Boychuk said. "Take that experience and we won the next year. Hopefully we can do that here and it was a Game 7 where we didn't play our best. Next year if we get in that situation we could use that as motivation to drive us to win that Game 7."
Anders Lee is another Islander whose season began with some uncertainty, when he was sent to the AHL for the opening two weeks. He ended up with 25 goals, second on the Islanders, but had only one assist in five playoff games before he was benched for Games 6 and 7 -- a removal he was still coming to grips with Wednesday.
"The hardest part is not letting the last week and a half overshadow something that was actually really good," Lee said. "I proved to a lot of people what I can do in this league. It's something I want to do every year and what I work hard for every summer. I think that's just the hard part right now, is not letting the last week and a half take too much of an effect on me, even though it was really hard."
Lee will head to the Czech Republic to represent the U.S. in the IIHF World Championships. Also headed there are Nikolay Kulemin (Russia) and Mikhail Grabovski (Belarus), with Brock Nelson a likely U.S. candidate for the second straight tournament.
"I don't want [my season] to end the way things have," Lee said. "I'm excited to play more hockey."