Brad Boyes didn’t see it coming.
He loved the sunshine, the ownership and his teammates. He was affordable ($2.625 million salary cap hit) and only had a year left on his contract. And in a parity-proud league where every standings point matters, Boyes has been money in the shootout.
So the 33-year-old was surprised when the Florida Panthers bought him out and cut him loose this summer.
Sure, his goals total had dipped from 21 to 14, but his assists had jumped from 15 to 24 and his two-way game had improved. A minus-6 rating had been spun into a plus-11. His ice time had decreased slightly, but he was still averaging more than two minutes per game on the power play.
“I didn’t have as good of a season goal-scoring-wise as I had the year before, but as far as fitting in with the coach [Gerard Gallant] and the new players and being responsible on the ice,” Boyes told Sportsnet 590 The Fan Thursday night, “I didn’t think it would come to being bought out. Traded, maybe.”
Now the Mississauga, Ont., native is back where his NHL career started: trying to make the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Leafs drafted the local boy in the first round back in 2000. There was no salary cap in place then, and the money-flush Leafs had a habit of flipping youth for experience.
Before he could don the blue and white, Boyes was traded to the San Jose Sharks (along with Alyn McCauley and a 2003 first-round pick) in exchange for Owen Nolan.
“It was tough,” Boyes recalled. “I’ve always wanted to play for the Leafs, so hopefully that opportunity is there in this training camp.”
The right wing signed a PTO with Toronto this week and is determined to earn a contract via training camp. That he was in the exact same position two years ago in Florida — and won a job — may give him an edge.
“This isn’t my first time. It’s a mind-set of going out there and earning what you get. Nothing is going to be given to me,” Boyes said. “There’s no bitterness.”
Known for his quick hands, Boyes is especially dangerous in the shootout. His 39 career SO goals are second only to Jonathan Toews’ 40.
The journeyman attributes his success in the skills contest to practice and switching conferences. New goaltenders make for new victims.
“I’ve stuck with a few different moves over the years, and they’ve been pretty good,” Boyes said.
“It gets tougher over the years. With video and iPads and everything, it’s tougher to score. Everyone’s scouting now.”