While the door is closed on one unrestricted free agent, it seems to be open for another. General manager Garth Snow was a guest on SiriusXM last week and was asked about Kyle Okposo.
“We wish him nothing but the best.”
Snow was not asked about Frans Nielsen, the longtime Islander, who like Okposo, is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1st. NBC Sports has reported that Snow and Nielsen’s agent have had talks about a long-term deal for the forward. Is it in the team’s best interest to do so?
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) June 19, 2016
The “Great Dane” is coming off a four-year contract worth $11 Million ($2.75 AAV). Nielsen finished with his second-career 20-goal season, a career-high seven coming on the power play. He is the only Isles forward to play on both the power play and penalty kill unit, averaging 1:59 per game on the penalty kill and 2:43 per game with the man advantage. According to Puckalytics, there are 107 players who have 500 minutes on the penalty kill since the start of the 2012-13 season, and Nielsen has 572 shorthanded minutes. Durability is not an issue as Nielsen has missed just six games since the start of the 2013-14 season.
To add to his accolades, Nielsen is one of the best shootout scorers in NHL history. Did I mention that he’s the best two-way forward on the team? It would be safe to say that Nielsen, besides John Tavares, is the team’s most irreplaceable forward. Nielsen even played alongside Tavares at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs.
Drafted by Mike Milbury in the third round of the 2002 draft, Nielsen is 32 years old. The Islanders already have two 30-plus year-olds (Johnny Boychuk and Mikhail Grabovski) who make five plus million dollars. Grabovski was signed two years ago to be the team’s second-line center, allowing Nielsen to move to the third line, where he was more suited to be. Nielsen saw plenty of time on the second line as Grabovski missed significant time the last two season.
Snow recently re-signed fourth-line center Casey Cizikas to a five-year contract worth $16.75 million dollars. Cizikas will see his workload increase and probably move to the third line. While his demands are publicly unknown, it is assumed that he is seeking no less than $5.5 annually. But is he worth it? If Nielsen re-signs for $5.5 million, it would leave around $8.3M to work with, including replacing Matt Martin and Okposo. The team also has four restricted free agents (Ryan Strome, Alan Quine, Shane Prince and J.F. Berube). I would expect all four to accept qualifying offers, leaving Snow $4.3M to work with. Not quite enough to land a top unrestricted free-agent winger for John Tavares. There is another way however.
Citing anonymous sources, Newsday reported that Snow would be willing to part with the 19th overall pick in next week’s draft as part of a package to land an “established NHL forward.” If that is the case and Nielsen accepts a four-year deal, the Islanders would have accomplished their off-season mission.
Noel Fogelman is a 5-time Emmy Winner and started his career working on the Buffalo Sabres Pre and postgame shows for the Empire Sports Network. He then went to Bristol, CT to work at ESPN on NHL2Night and its coverage of the Stanley Cup. Follow me on Twiter @thefirstnoel19