Brad Boyes is enjoying Canada's 145th birthday surrounded by family and friends when his phone rings at noon, signalling the start of the free-agent signing period in the National Hockey League.
On the other end is Doug Weight, one of the better Americans to ever play the game who also happens to be an assistant coach with the New York Islanders and special advisor to general manager Garth Snow.
In 2007, Weight was Boyes's centre with the St. Louis Blues for nearly half a season when the latter scored a career-high 43 goals. Weight was traded that season to Anaheim, where he was probably unaware of the impression he had left on his former young teammate.
"He was an amazing hockey player, a pass-first mentality which was awesome for me," Boyes said on the phone from his off-season home in Mississauga, Ont. "But more importantly, off-ice, he was one of the best guys to look up to, a classy guy.
"It's something that, again, talking to him [on July 1], influenced my decision big-time because he made such an [impression] on me when I was in St. Louis."
Taking a trip down memory lane wasn't Weight's primary focus on Canada Day. He was hoping to convince Boyes that by joining the Islanders, fresh off a second-last finish in the NHL's Eastern Conference, he would have a good chance to rebound from a career-worst 23-point season in Buffalo.
Like his play with the puck, Weight worked magic with his words and by 2:15 p.m. Boyes had agreed to join his fifth NHL club - but first as an unrestricted free agent following four trades - on a one-year deal worth $1 million US.
"It gets me excited again to have [Weight] on the bench, a guy there that I respect so much. It's a big deal," said Boyes, who didn't have much communication during his "tough and frustrating" one-plus seasons under Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff.
Power play a strength
For Boyes, who was asked to play centre, left wing and on the penalty-kill at various times in Buffalo, he wanted to be put into a situation where he felt part of a team and had a chance to play among the top-six forwards and on the power play, one of his strengths.
But his biggest priority entering free agency was finding a coach who would give him some direction and a sense of his role on the team, a requirement Ruff couldn't fill.
"I want to play for a coach that I respect a lot and that'll go a long way in the way that I play," said Boyes, who scored 33 times in St. Louis in 2008-09 but has only 14, 17 and eight goals in each of his past three seasons. "That starts by communicating with off-ice stuff, saying hi, asking how the family is. Those things go a long way.
"I'm just looking for a coach that will do that to begin with. Once you get the personal side, then it's the hockey stuff, with the coach communicating what he likes or doesn't like about your play.
"I don't need someone telling me every game, every minute or every shift if I've done something good or bad, but every once in a while it's nice to hear some communication either way to know you're part of the team and feel important."
That won't be an issue with Weight, who talked to Boyes about Islanders bench boss Jack Capuano, a coach with whom he's unfamiliar.
"He said [Capuano] lets guys play, wants them to play their game," Boyes said. "He's more of a laid-back guy, not necessarily in your face screaming and yelling, but at the same time cares about guys, loves his job.
"He's [a younger coach] but I think the players respect him and that's important."
Time to get re-established
Boyes said he was looking for a one-year deal with any team to get himself re-established and not lock him down long term "in case it didn't work out."
Having fun again and feeling part of a team was a bigger factor than money for Boyes, who takes a $3 million pay cut from his 2011-12 salary.
"I know [my agent] Pat [Brisson] had talked to a couple of teams and there was interest but [those teams] were looking at other players and I was more down the list a bit for them," Boyes said. "If the Islanders weren't the best fit I would have waited to see what else was out there.
"It wasn't a panic decision at all. I took my time and thought about it, played the scenarios."
One of those scenarios was envisioning himself playing the right side at even-strength and on the power play alongside the Islanders' top forwards, centre John Tavares, 21, and left-winger Matt Moulson, 28.
"With John, he's just such a talented player the way he controls the puck, handles the puck, can rush with it and make the smart play and right play in certain situations," said Boyes. "Moulson's a guy that just goes to the net. He also finds those quiet areas that John can find him.
"[The Islanders] have a young roster but one with experience which is good," added Boyes. "Another [strength] I can bring is experience to a young team.
"It's exciting to play with guys who are youthful, exciting to watch and learning as they go. I was there, too, at one time."
Years later, the Islanders hope Boyes can return to those glory days, again under Weight's watch.
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