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Free Agent Trades Begin, Will New York Islanders be in the Mix?

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Monday afternoon was the starting gun for free agent trades in the NHL.

Bobbing for draft picks.
Bobbing for draft picks.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Will the New York Islanders trade the rights to their pending unrestricted free agents? We're sure to find out soon.

The NHL has a busy two weeks ahead, with the draft this weekend followed by the free agent flirtation period next week before teams can actually start signing unrestricted free agents in July. Those three factors mean trades, Trades, TRADES and the Isles have at least one piece of interest in Kyle Okposo (a top free agent draw who should have no trouble finding suitors), perhaps Frans Nielsen (likewise, but older and reportedly in extension talks with the team) and Matt Martin (a fourth liner unlikely to have any team trade for his negotiating rights).

Monday afternoon kicked things off around the league with trades of every kind of free agent:

  • Nashville traded the rights to Jim Vesey, a highly touted NCAA draft pick who would become an unrestricted free agent in mid-August after refusing to sign with the Predators, were flipped to the Buffalo Sabres for a third round pick (2016).
  • Frederik Andersen, a pending restricted free agent, was traded by the Anaheim Ducks to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a 2016 first-round pick (30th overall) and a 2017 second-round pick. Toronto reportedly has him agreeing to a five-year contract in the $5.5 million per year range.
  • Finally (except surely not finally), Keith Yandle, about to become an unrestricted free agent, was flipped from the Rangers to the Florida Panthers for a sixth round pick (2016) and a conditional pick (fourth round, 2017) if he's signed.

If you're scoring at home, that's a full veteran UFA for just a sixth and maybe a fourth (if signed), a good young RFA for essentially two seconds, and an NCAA free agent for a third.

Looked at one way, the better the chances of a new team signing the player, the greater the size of the trade compensation:

Not only did Lou Lamoriello apparently already have terms in mind with Andersen -- not that there was tampering, no never -- but his status as an RFA meant they were sure to at least retain rights to the asset. (But seriously: The trade was apparently contingent on reaching terms.)

Vesey, meanwhile, shares an agent with Jack Eichel and has always been bound for somewhere-not-Nashville. So you figure they have a good idea of their chances of signing him, even though Buffalo GM Tim Murray was more aww-shucks-might-as-well-try about it.

They at least have longer to try to find an agreement. Vesey's agent, however, was sticking to script:

Finally, Yandle's compensation is the weakest. A sixth-round pick is very little, and a fourth (if signed) is around the more traditional compensation for players in such a situation. (The Islanders sent the Capitals a fourth for the rights to Jaroslav Halak two summers ago.)

Oh, and that brings us back to the Islanders. Okposo is essentially a certainty to walk on July 1, though it's unclear how far apart the two parties were on an extension -- apparently so far apart, serious negotiations never took place. That means his suitors will know they have to buck up big for the contract itself -- or alternatively, he has just a few places in mind he wants to go -- which could go factor either way in terms of teams trading for his rights. (Either "go after him, go all in" or "We're not paying him THAT much AND trading for his rights AND risking that he wants to go elsewhere.")

Nielsen, you would think, could bring back a decent (4th) type of pick, at least conditionally, if a team sees him fitting in.

Martin...god love him, but it would be a miracle if a team decided that a fourth-liner was the player they just had to burn a draft pick to talk to. That's not happening.

So, anyway, busy week ahead. Let the Isles drama begin. (Okay okay: resume.)