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Nelson Negotiations: Garth Snow and the business of playing chicken

Who blinks first when an agent and GM stare each other down? Mainly it's us.

I been there, man.
I been there, man.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The news that Ron Salcer, agent for unsigned RFA Brock Nelson, has not heard from Garth Snow in six weeks has made the ramp up to training camp much bumpier.

On the surface, both suits are doing what they're paid to do. And caught in the middle is Nelson, a player who enjoyed a successful year last season and who would, no doubt, like to experience a few more. To do that, he first needs to be on the ice. And do to that, he, like the rest of us, has to wait out a game of chicken.

The thing is, Snow has crossed this road before. Sean Bergenheim went to Europe and back during his negotiations with Snow before finally settling with Tampa Bay after the Islanders failed to qualify him. Nelson's current teammate Josh Bailey also waited out a contract without any leverage back in 2011, which came up when we looked at Nelson's non-existent arbitration rights.

After not signing his qualifying offer and being "fairly far apart in negotiations all summer," Bailey put pen to paper just hours before camp opened. As Dom wrote at the time:

Pat Morris (Bailey's reported agent) and Newport Sports (überagent Don Meehan's agency) appeared to stretch this all summer long to see if the Islanders would bend, but in the end a sensible contract -- even cheaper than I expected -- was reached: Bailey gets a decent above-qualifying-offer raise over the $875,000 base salary of his ELC.

If Katie Strang's source is precise on the salary, then Bailey's cap hit is actually lower now than the $1.725 million of his ELC.

To make that deal happen, Morris ended up coming out to Long Island to meet Snow face-to-face and figure it out.

If there was any lingering resentment between the parties, it certainly didn't show two years later, when Bailey agreed to a five-year $16.5 million contract that he's still on today. Bailey remains a divisive force among Islanders fans, and his $3.3 million AAV is either an immovable albatross or a bargain depending on your view of him.

The comparables Salcer uses for his client in Arthur Staple's report aren't unreasonable. They're all on two-year contracts in the range of $2.5 to $3 million per. We won't know if Snow lowballed Nelson until a contract is struck, or actual numbers surface from one or both parties.

Nelson's 20 goals and 42 points placed him fifth on the team last year. His possession stats were good (52.6% 5v5 corsi) and he played a variety of roles on just about every line. He's a promising, productive young player. He will be rewarded handsomely. Just not right now.

Getting good players on cheap contracts while he can is Snow's bread and butter. Exhibit A is John Tavares, a two-time Hart Trophy finalist who still has three seasons left on a deal so cap friendly, it's a surprise the entire roster isn't crashing on his couch. Every penny Snow spends now is one he might not be able to give his All Star captain in 2018.

Even when the Islanders payroll was among the lowest in the NHL, as it was for Bailey's 2011 contract, Snow had an eye on keeping things as tight as possible so he could use the cap space for the guys who could rightfully demand it, i.e. unrestricted free agents he wants to hang on to. Right now, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen are all under the microscope.

It's stressful and frustrating and frankly a little irritating to have to sweat this out, but that's the deal with Snow. Next year, it will be Ryan Strome's turn at the table and we could be right back here, watching chicken again.


We have our first clue as to the type of money the Islanders are offering, courtesy of a Staple blog post. If he's right (notice the "maybe" in there), the number isn't a good look for the Islanders.

But Nelson chose to forego that QO, so now his deal could look even worse. Snow may not budge off a two-year deal worth maybe $2.5 million total. It may not seem fair, compared to what similar players are getting, but this isn't about fairness.

A $1.25 million AAV for Nelson would fly right past a "steal" and into "ripping off every mobster in the city" territory. Snow is within his rights to make an offer he's comfortable with, but that's pretty extreme, even for him.

Perhaps that low number is designed to leave some final, 11th hour wiggle room. We have less than two days to find out.


Okay, this is just weird now.