Until noon today, there was no longer serving New York Islander player than Frans Nielsen. Now there is no longer a New York Islander player Frans Nielsen. An era has ended as the versatile Danish center signed a six-year free agent contract with the Detroit Red Wings with a reported average value of $5.25 million per season.
Nielsen was drafted in 2002 and brought to North America for 2006-07 with the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers. After a few callups those first two seasons he earned full-time work in 2008-09, the season when the Isles hit bottom and then drafted John Tavares.
Though he became a full-time player during the Isles' worst year, he immediately became an essential two-way center for the next eight seasons, spanning two incredibly team-friendly contracts. That time included 606 regular season games with 119 goals and 230 assists (and an unfathomably clean 112 PIM), plus 24 playoff games with four goals and six assists.
He turned 32 in April, meaning his highest earning opportunity coincided with the years when athletes decline.
But he is still very good, was important last season and would've remained important for the foreseeable future. Losing him is significant enough that the Islanders made their biggest push with him among their three unrestricted free agents.
They reportedly went as high as $5.5 million per season in their offers to extend Nielsen, but the Red Wings -- who were also among the teams lining up for Steven Stamkos if he hit free agency -- pushed for Nielsen as their next target, and something they offered -- or perhaps as damning, something the Isles were doing, though he shut that thought down during an interview on Sportsnet -- convinced him to leave the Isles behind.
Okposo and Martin were gone for a while, but Nielsen choosing to go happened in the last few days. Deal was on the table weeks ago.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) July 1, 2016
Ironically, both teams may be losers here: The Wings, struggling with Pavel Datsyuk's sudden departure and never getting the chance to bid for Stamkos, have to settle for a strong but not dominant two-way second-line center type while also re-signing Darren Helm to an expensive $3.85 million cap hit deal. Meanwhile the Isles, set to lose Kyle Okposo and likewise never having an actual shot at Stamkos, have the money that would've gone to Nielsen but no equivalent to spend it on.