The Islanders open up training camp in less than three weeks. Perhaps the biggest question heading into camp is whether or not Brock Nelson will be there. The restricted free-agent forward declined his qualifying offer back in July. Since Nelson did not have any arbitration rights this summer, there hasn’t been a sense of urgency on either part to get something done … until now.
Islanders owner Charles Wang implemented a rule when he took over the team back in 2000 that if a player holds out at the start of training camp, the player doesn’t play the season. Back in 2005, forward Mark Parrish signed his one-year qualifying offer on the eve of training camp. Parrish scored 24 goals in 2003-04 before the 2004-05 season was cancelled due to the lockout. It would have been interesting if Wang was steadfast with the rule in regards to Parrish. Wang had to enforce the rule at the start of the 2006 training camp. Forward Sean Bergenheim, the 2002 first-round pick, and new general manager Garth Snow could not agree on a new deal. Bergenheim had four goals and five assists in 28 games. On the way out the door, Bergenheim’s camp said how he was insulted by a pair of deals Snow offered. Possibly accompanying this sour relationship was that Bergenheim and Snow got into a scrap the previous camp when Snow was still an active player. Bergenheim and defenseman Denis Grebeshkov, who also refused to sign, played the season in Russia. Both sides made up the following season as the Islanders and Bergenheim agreed to a new deal.
Brock Nelson: A Tale of Two Seasons
The 30th overall pick in the 2010 draft has played two full seasons in the NHL. However, it was a tale of two seasons for Brock Nelson in 2014-15. The 23-year old started the season centering newly acquired forward Mikhail Grabovski and newcomer Ryan Strome. There was some talk heading into training camp that he would be on the first line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, but that never came to fruition. Nelson started very strong, scoring four goals and three assists in the first three games.
When Grabovski was out with his first concussion of the season, Nelson joined Strome and Anders Lee, forming “the Kid Line.” The trio gelled quickly. It provided the secondary scoring that the team needed and alleviated the load off the first line. In the first 20 games of the season, the Minnesota native scored 10 goals and had nine assists.
Nelson was well on his way to becoming a 30-plus goal season. He finished the first half of the season with 15 goals and 13 assists. Then the second half came. Okposo missed 22 games with a detached retina. During Okposo’s absence, Nelson scored just three goals. He also went 18 games without scoring a goal. Despite the lack of scoring, Nelson still played well without the puck. But he has to learn to use his 6-foot-3, 195-pound body to his advantage.
Nelson started the playoffs strong scoring two goals in Game 1 vs the Washington Capitals. He was held scoreless for the remainder of the series and was scratched for Game 5. Nelson was one of just three Islanders (Tavares, Nikolay Kulemin) to play in all 82 regular season games.
Three restricted free-agent forwards who signed bridge deals this offseason are the Los Angeles Kings’ Tyler Toffoli, Carolina Hurricanes’ Elias Lindholm and Ottawa Senators’ Mika Zibanejad. The 23-year-old Toffoli established career highs with 23 goals, 26 assists, a plus-25 rating and five short-handed goals last season for the Kings. He was the Kings’ third-leading scorer and led the NHL in short-handed points and goals. The Kings signed him to a two-year deal with a $3.25 million cap hit. Toffoli is a rising star in the league. Lindholm, the fifth overall pick in 2013, scored 17 goals last season and has the third-most points (60) among the 2013 draft class. The Hurricanes bridged him with a two-year deal at a $2.7 million cap hit. Mika Zibanejad, the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft, recorded his first 20-goal campaign this past season. The Senators bridged him with a two-year deal at a $2.625 million cap hit.
When all is said and done, the Islanders and Brock Nelson should agree to two-year deal close to what these three forwards received.
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