This just in from our No Shit, Sherlock Department: Keeping Frans Nielsen would be in the Islanders' best interests.
The latest on negotiations with the unrestricted free agent, straight from Newsday's Arthur Staple, was that things were progressing slowly and that Nielsen could reach July 1st without a contract extension. That doesn't necessarily mean Nielsen definitely won't be back, but it does mean a lot of sleepless nights for fans afraid that their team could lose a very valuable player. (Update: In an article published this evening about the Islanders' offseason plans, Staple says that GM Garth Snow and Nielsen's camp have recently discussed a long term deal, per his sources)
How valuable is Nielsen? Here are some select numbers, showing Nielsen's individual totals and where he ranked among his teammates during the regular season. (Data courtesy of corsica.hockey except special teams TOI/60 via Behind the Net.)
|Nielsen||Rank on Islanders|
|CF% Rel (5v5)||2.28||4th|
|Goals (5v4)||7||1st (tie)|
|TOI/60 (4v5)||1.96||5th (4th Among Fs)|
Not only is Nielsen the only Islanders forward to get both power play and penalty killing time, but he's one of the most used players on both units. He was tied with Anders Lee for the team lead in power play goals, in addition to being third on the team in overall points. He also was one of five Islanders to play in 81 games this season.
As of now, we don't know how much money Nielsen is seeking or how many years he wants. Shoot, we don't even know exactly how what next year's salary cap will be yet. If, as expected, it stays flat to the $71.4 million it was this past season, the Islanders will have about $13.8 million to spend with five restricted free agents to sign, including regulars like Ryan Strome, Alan Quine and Shane Prince and goalie Jean-Francois Berube.
The Islanders have already signed Casey Cizikas to a very generous contract worth $3.3 million AAV. According to Staple, the team expects Cizikas, a career fourth liner, to take on more responsibilities next season. I hope they don't anticipate Cizikas replacing Nielsen because the only thing they have in common is that they both kill penalties.
Nielsen is coming off a four-year contract he signed in 2011 worth $2.75 million AAV. That was an incredible bargain unlikely to be replicated. Garth Snow could give Nielsen double what he used to make for an AAV of $5.5 million per year leaving him about $8.3 million with which to fill out the rest of the roster. That doesn't seem all that bad, but it probably puts this summer's few premium UFAs like David Backes, Milan Lucic and Steven Stamkos out of reach (if they weren't already).
This assumes Nielsen and his agent will even accept a $5.5 million offer. It takes two to make a deal, and Nielsen has earned the right to seek out the best situation for him. He's currently the longest tenured Islander and has worn the uniform proudly through some extraordinarily lean times.
Snow's primary concern is probably Nielsen's age. He's 32 right now, and won't be 33 until next April. Giving term to a player on the other side of 30 is always risky, but Nielsen seems like as safe a bet as you'll find. In his career, he's been extraordinarily durable, missing a total of five games in the last five seasons (one of which was a lockout half season).
Replacing Nielsen would mean having to find another player - or, more likely, players plural - capable of contributing in all of the ways he does. Whatever number Nielsen wants, signing him would probably be cheaper (and certainly faster and less frustrating) than identifying and paying a bunch of replacements.
Maybe the delay is due to the salary cap not being official yet. Maybe there's a large gap in demands between Nielsen and Snow. Whatever the issue is, my guess is most of us hope the resolution ends with Nielsen continuing his career as an Islander.