ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Capitals have seen their fair share of roster shuffling this season with injuries and suspensions all throughout the season. In fact, Monday’s game was the first game of the season in which the team had its full lineup available. Nobody has been more affected by that shuffling that Travis Boyd, who has found himself caught between Washington and Hershey.
Now, it certainly appears as if he has finally earned himself a full-time NHL role, it just took trading away a friend to get it.
“It's not been an easy start to the year for him going through time in Hershey,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “To me, he's shown me a lot of mental toughness and that's what I think I've seen him grow with. He takes each day for what it's worth and try to make the most out of it that he can.”
The 2018-19 season was Boyd’s first full NHL season. He only played in 53 games, however, as he struggled to perform consistently and stay in the lineup. A player who had excelled at virtually every level in his hockey career began worrying so much about being taken out of the lineup, it took away from his game.
“Last year you get so caught up in what do I have to do to stay in the lineup?” Boyd said. “And you try and go out there and play a game where you don't screw up but all of a sudden when you start doing that, you end up not really even playing your game. And you're thinking the whole game and you're going out there, you're so worried about turning that puck over that you're not going to try to even make that play.”
As the team signed multiple players in the offseason to fill roles that Boyd could have filled, it became clear that his performance last season was not good enough. With Washington’s cap situation, the writing was on the wall as the season approached.
When Evgeny Kuznetsov (and his cap hit) returned from an early suspension, Boyd was reassigned to the Hershey Bears.
“A lot of guys would be like, I'm getting the short end of the stick here, this isn't fair,” Reirden said. “And sometimes it's not, but you have a choice to make whether you want to respond with the right way or the wrong way and he's made the choice to respond the proper way.”
Going back to the AHL after a season in the NHL can be tough for a player. Not everyone responds positively. Boyd, however, did. In four games with Hershey, Boyd scored four goals and two assists. With injuries continuing to crop up throughout the season, Boyd was a frequent call-up. Through the first two months of the season, Boyd cycled between Washington and Hershey, which has brought its own challenges on and off the ice.
“It's been pretty tough mentally just having that uncertainty as in not knowing 100-percent where you're going to be,” Boyd said. “Just kind of, I guess, doesn't let you get comfortable in one place.”
“Especially the family part of it too, having an apartment in Hershey and being in a hotel here,” he added. “Our daughter's been in school in Hershey. I feel bad for [girlfriend Kelsey DeGonda] and my daughter Hayden because they've got no say over it at all. It's tough trying to get her going in school and trying to get somewhere we can call home.”
Despite what was a tumultuous few weeks, Boyd seemed to find the one thing he had been looking for all of last season: Consistency.
“When I finally got a chance to play up here I basically said OK, well what's the worst they could do? Send me back down?” he said. “So I'm going to go out here and I'm going to try every single chance I get to go out there and show why I belong here and that's going out there and making plays when it's there and ultimately going out there and playing a free game and playing confidently.”
“When he's been in or out of the lineup or he's been in Hershey, he's made the choice to improve and grow his game so that when he does get the chance he's able to have success, and I think his performance has followed along with it,” Reirden said.
Boyd played so well the past few weeks that suddenly a Caps team that could not afford to keep Boyd on the roster at the start of the season, could not afford to take him off. But with the team getting healthy again at the start of December, cap space again began to be an issue. If Boyd was going to stay, someone else had to go.
On Dec. 2, the shoe dropped and Chandler Stephenson was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights.
Upon hearing the news, Boyd had mixed feelings. The team had virtually traded away a player just to keep him, but it meant pushing a friend out.
“Especially Chandler who I've been with since my first year in Hershey too,” Boyd said. “Obviously you want to win that kind of battle and you want to be the guy who comes out on top and everything like that, but that's the business side and that's the side that you really don't have any control over.”
“It's sad to see Chandler go. I've been with him, this is my fifth year being on a team with him. He's a good buddy of mine and I wish him nothing but the best in Vegas.”
The other reality of this move is that while it certainly appears that he now has a full-time job in Washington, he now must compete for playing time.
Right now, Boyd appears to be the 13th forward and will likely be a healthy scratch until Reirden decides to shake up the lines or if there is an injury. He has to continue to be productive with the limited opportunities he is given or he could soon find himself again on the outside looking in yet again to young prospects such as Beck Malenstyn.
But the journey Boyd has been on this season will motivate him to keep pushing, not just for him, but for his family.
Boyd is still searching for a home and he is determined to make sure that home is in Washington, not Hershey.
”It's been tough,” he said. “It's been a mental grind for sure. Hopefully moving forward here we can get some confirmation and get some comfort level, hopefully get a place and start to make it our home for the rest of the year.”
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