Frans Nielsen would like to make it clear: His decision to leave the Islanders this past summer didn’t have anything to do with his teammates, the coaching staff or the commute to Brooklyn.
“When the season ended, I had no thoughts about playing anywhere else,” said Nielsen, whose Red Wings will face the Islanders tonight at Barclays Center. “The talks dragged on a little bit and it wasn’t until that week before [the July 1 start of free agency] that I really started to think about playing somewhere else, how exciting that could be.
“I’m still close with a lot of guys there and thinking about all my years there, with Garth [Snow], Jack [Capuano], Dougie [Weight], [assistant to the general manager] Kerry Gwydir . . . I have nothing against anyone there.”
Other than perhaps on the ice tonight. Nielsen and the Wings have gotten off to a slow start, after last night’s 5-3 loss in Pittsburgh they are 11-11-3, three points ahead of the Islanders. Nielsen has six goals and eight assists, including two shorthanded goals, but believes he hasn’t been consistent enough in the first year of the six-year, $30-million deal he signed on July 1.
“One thing I always took pride in when I was in New York was my consistency, being able to do the same things every night on the ice,” he said. “That’s been a little too up and down here. Maybe it’s from overthinking a bit, getting used to a new style of play. I’m sure it’s going to come and I’ll get back to being the player I’ve been.”
After 606 games with the Isles, most of them with Capuano as coach, he is getting used to a different system under Jeff Blashill. “They really want to play a puck possession game here,” he said. “It was a really heavy forecheck game in New York, it was a lot simpler style of play. I think I struggled a little bit at first here because of the difference. It just wasn’t what I was used to.”
Nielsen has been in touch with a few of the Islanders as well as Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin, two other longtime Isles who headed for Buffalo and Toronto, respectively, during the summer.
None of the teams — the Islanders, Red Wings, Sabres and Maple Leafs — has started this season well.
“I think it’s not only tough for the Islanders losing all three of us, but for all of us to get used to everything that’s so completely new,” said Nielsen, who stayed on Long Island during the summer and where his wife, Moa, gave birth to their first child in August, a son named Lou.
Nielsen jetted off immediately after his son was born to try to help Denmark qualify for the 2018 Olympics (they didn’t make it). Then Nielsen went to Toronto to help Team Europe reach the World Cup final, which cost him a big chunk of training camp time in Detroit.
Now it’s time to make his return to Brooklyn. Martin came back Oct. 30 to a warm welcome and Okposo will come back Dec. 23. Nielsen, always regarded as an underrated player in his decade with the Isles, isn’t sure what sort of reception he’ll get tonight.
“I’m nervous. I’m sure there will be some butterflies,” he said. “It’ll probably be like that first game of the season or the first game of the playoffs. After a couple of shifts, it should be OK. I still have a lot of friends over there and I want to see them do well. Hopefully we’ll both be where we want to be by the end of the season.”
Neilson in 2016