Of all of the roster question marks the New York Islanders face with their season concluding Sunday afternoon with a Game 5 loss in Tampa Bay, none has meant more to the organization and for longer than Frans Nielsen.
He is one of a handful of unrestricted free agents and core members whose future is undetermined as the season ends. With the fresh sting of a 4-0 series-clinching loss to the Lightning, players were understandably not in much mood to discuss their next contracts, but Nielsen fielded questions from media after the game.
Among his thoughts, delivered in subdued, defeated tones (via team audio):
Has it been on his mind?
The business part of it probably starts now. I’ve been caught up in playing, [but we've] got a lot of time to figure that out now.
Will he be able to look back on this in a couple of weeks and be proud of what they accomplished?
I hope so. Doesn’t feel like it now. We’ve taken steps as a team. I definitely think this team can do damage in the future.
What would it mean to him if he could remain in an Isles jersey?
I’ve always been proud representing this organization. We’ve got a lot of time now this summer, we’ll see what happens. I haven’t put a lot of thought to it lately, but I’ve always been proud to wear this jersey. The team we’ve had the last couple of years has made it even more fun.
Of longtime members who are free agents like Kyle Okposo, Matt Martin, Nielsen and (RFA) Casey Cizikas, Nielsen has generally been seen as one more likely to be brought back. But that depends on his situations, the Isles' view, and many other moving parts that can change between now and July.
For now, the 2002 third-round (87th overall) draft pick has 606 NHL regular season games with the Islanders under his belt, notching 119 goals, 230 assists (plus 24 playoff games with 4-6-10), and countless difficult checking assignments against larger centers on the opposing team.
He's 32 now as of last month, precisely what complicates how much a team can commit to him during what should be his decline. But after battling through leg injuries last season, this year he showed no signs of having lost his trademark speed and mobility.
He can still be a key contributor, probably for several years. But if they don't reach an agreement, he'll have left as one of the biggest homegrown success stories during what was otherwise a very difficult era for the franchise. And Nielsen was good enough to be around long enough to see the good times return.