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The Curious Case of Brock Nelson and the Disappearing Arbitration Rights

Is the Islanders RFA forward looking at a Bridge deal or Big deal?

How'd that work out for you?
How'd that work out for you?
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Restricted free agent Brock Nelson hasn't signed an extension with the Islanders yet, which is either panic attack-inducing or business-as-usual depending on what side of the Fandom Anxiety scale you reside on.

One of the reasons for the delay is that there really is no deadline other than the beginning of training camp sometime in September. Nelson is currently ineligible to take the Islanders to arbitration, which would normally accelerate the process.

So why doesn't Nelson have arbitration rights? A combination of when and how long.

Nelson was drafted in 2010 and signed his first Standard Player Contract in 2012 at the age of 20 after playing two years at North Dakota. After signing, he played his first pro season in Bridgeport during the 2013-14 AHL season. He played a single playoff game for the Islanders in 2013 and his first full season with them in 2013-14.

With only two NHL seasons under his belt, Nelson isn't eligible for arbitration just yet.

Age at first SPC Signing Entry-Level Years Years Until Arbitration Eligibility
18-20 3 4
21 3 3
22-23 2 2
24 1 1

Seems a little like stacking the deck against the players, doesn't it? Well, it is. But if you're a general manager, it's part of the game.

As JJ put it at Winging It In Motown's indispensable "Getting to know the CBA" series when examining P.K. Subban's brief RFA holdout and subsequent bridge contract with the Canadiens:

That one year where they may not go to arbitration and aren't likely to snatch up an impressive offer sheet has the power to get no small number of them into deals they might otherwise not sign. This wasn't the first statistically impressive year for Subban, but he wasn't so established that he could attract a competitive offer, so he ended up taking a discount to prove himself because it was either that or take an entire season off to let not only his skills, but also his reputation diminish because of a refusal to play ball in a system designed to force him to do so.

Subban was paid just $2 million in the first year of his bridge deal, which happened to be the same year he won the Norris Trophy. His next contract was an eight-year, $72 million monster.

Another guy who was in a similar situation but slightly closer to Nelson is his teammate Josh Bailey. Like Nelson, Bailey wasn't eligible for arbitration after his ELC ended, either. Bailey signed his contract at 18, was thrown right into fire on some awful Islanders teams, and only had three years of service when he needed to re-sign.

His second contract, signed in 2011, was a two-year deal worth a little over $2 million and was finalized mere hours before the beginning of training camp. Two years later, Bailey did exercise his arbitration rights, but he and the Islanders settled beforehand on a five-year, $16 million contract extension ($3.3 AAV). Whether or not Bailey has lived up to that contract depends heavily on what side of the Josh Bailey is a Bust scale you reside on.

As for the likelihood of Nelson holding out, there haven't been any indications that he and Garth Snow aren't seeing eye-to-eye on a contract. There haven't been any indications of anything at all regarding what Nelson is looking for or what Snow is willing to pony up. For all we know, right now Nelson could be lounging on a beach in Hawaii or training back home in Minnesota by pulling horse plows through the snow, Rocky Balboa-style.

Brock the Bank?

Bailey and Subban are just two isolated cases. But signing Nelson to a short bridge deal has a few advantages for the Islanders.

First, it would keep Nelson an RFA for his next next contract because he wouldn't have the requisite years played or age to become an unrestricted free agent. Second, if he comes in at a shade under $3 million per season (a little more than Bailey got on his second deal based on Nelson's better offensive production), it would help Snow maximize the team's remaining cap space and postpone Nelson's big payday for a couple more seasons.

Or Snow could surprise us with a longer term deal, such as the four-year contract given to Anders Lee earlier this summer which would take Nelson until he hits UFA.

I'm going to predict a very boring but economical two-year, $5.5 million ($2.75 AAV) contract for Nelson sometime before camp. I'll probably be wrong, but as long as Nelson's back, I won't care.