New York Islanders GM Garth Snow has a busy June ahead of him that will include some big decisions to make on the free agent front.
All told, Snow has 21 free agents to decide whether or not to bring back or cut ties with, 12 of which are of the unrestricted variety. And while it seems like a foregone conclusion one top free agent, winger Kyle Okposo, will test the open market — that could be the case for fourth-liner Matt Martin, too — it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if Snow brought back center Frans Nielsen on a new deal. That still might be the case, but according to Newsday’s Arthur Staple, there’s “nothing new” brewing between Nielsen’s agent and the Islanders.
With free agency less than a month away, that could mean the 32-year-old finds himself hitting free agency, and he’s almost certain to generate some serious interest if that’s the case.
Nielsen is coming off of a solid 20-goal, 52-point campaign for the Islanders and has been a fixture of the team’s top six for the past several seasons, but what will interest teams most about Nielsen is his two-way ability.
On team’s boasting an offensive center on the top line, Nielsen is the perfect option as a second-line pivot, and that’s exactly how he has been deployed with the Islanders. He was consistently out against top competition and produced good possession numbers given he started more than half of his shifts in the defensive zone. That’s not to mention his penalty kill prowess. He’s been a first-unit penalty killer throughout his time with the Islanders, and since 2008-09, Nielsen’s first full campaign in New York, only four players have scored more shorthanded goals than Nielsen.
The tricky thing about signing Nielsen — and potentially what is worrying Snow — is that he’s absolutely seeking a significant raise on the $2.75 million per season he was earning over the past four campaigns with the Islanders. In all likelihood, Nielsen could be looking for more than $3.5 million, which was his actual salary in the final season of his recently expired contract. If you’re looking for a comparison, one comparable could be the most recent deal Mike Fisher inked with the Nashville Predators.
Fisher, 36, is signed for two years at $4.4 million per season, and he and Nielsen have produced similar underlying numbers over the past two seasons. At 5-on-5, Nielsen has a goals for percentage of 52.7 percent to Fisher’s 51.2 percent, but Fisher has the stronger possession numbers with a 52.8 shot attempts percentage to Nielsen’s 51.7 percent. Offensively, Nielsen has scored 16 goals and 42 points at 5-on-5 since the start of 2014-15, while Fisher has 18 goals and 38 points.
The concern, though, is that Nielsen is leaving his prime — if it���s not already passed him by — and on a deal that’s anything more than two seasons, his price tag could worry some suitors. If there’s a decline in play, no matter how small, a $4 million-plus salary could hurt teams flirting with cap disaster, especially given how little the cap has risen over the past few seasons.
Nielsen’s future will be one to watch, and he’ll have no shortage of options, to be sure. Nielsen has all the makings of a player that could be an underrated part of a Stanley Cup contender, but whether that’s in New York or elsewhere is to be determined.
(Advanced statistics via Puckalytics)