We’re at the start of a very big week (or two) for the Islanders. With free agency beginning Friday, prospect camp beginning Tuesday and the free-agent contact period currently underway, there’s a lot happening.
Frans Nielsen stillis Islanders property and there still seems to be a better chance than not that he will remain with the Isles. A report Monday indicated Nielsen had turned down an Islander contract offer worth $5.5 million per season. Sources had indicated in the past week that the two sides had moved closer on a deal, one that was likely to be six or seven years in length to keep the average annual value below that $5.5 million number and keep Nielsen in an Islander uniform for the rest of his NHL career.
Things change daily, even hourly, when it comes to the free-agent frenzy, so one side or the other could have altered their stance. But last I heard, $5.5 million per was not the right number and the sides were closer on a deal.
Now, it’s important to remember that Garth Snow doesn’t act with the overarching urgency that all us laypeople assume is required to be a general manager. He’s the Big Paulie of the NHL GMs -- he moves slowly because he doesn’t have to move fast for anyone.
So this could certainly be a slow play by Snow while he waits to see what else Nielsen is offered and then the two strike a deal even after Friday’s frenzy begins. I would expect, given the distinct lack of animosity between player and team, that Nielsen gives the Isles a chance to make a final pitch before the week is out.
Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin
Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin are headed elsewhere, that much is certain. There’s been no contact between either player’s representative and Garth Snow of late.
A source indicated over the weekend, when the unrestricted free agent contact period began, that a slew of teams had already reached out about Okposo, who could be the prime Plan B for teams that don’t land Steven Stamkos or simply the Plan A for some other clubs. The Jets, Blues, Red Wings, Wild, Sabres and Kings have reached out. Expect the Panthers and Canadiens to do so as well, though it’s believed that Okposo would rather head closer to his Minnesota home than north to Canada.
Martin’s reported suitors included the Rangers (gasp!) and the Leafs. The Rangers make sense from Martin’s perspective -- he loves the New York area, his longtime girlfriend Sydney Esiason has strong ties here -- but from the Rangers’ side it would mean shuffling some pieces around to make room.
Martin would seem to be a fit in a lot of Eastern Conference spots, at least ones that can fit $2.5-3 million per year under the cap.
Whoever gets Martin gets the sort of person you want on your team, on-ice ability aside. Martin is hosting his youth hockey camp this week on Long Island, even knowing full well his days as an Islander are almost up. More than a few pro athletes would simply pull up stakes and save the charitable endeavors for the next stop. Not Martin, who’s as genuine as they come.
A few reports have linked the Isles with Stamkos in this contact period. Don Meehan, Stamkos’ high-powered agent, has kept the player’s side incredibly quiet. The only real information about who’s interested has come from exuberant GMs such as the Sabres’ Tim Murray, who basically pulled a Tom Cruise-on-Oprah’s-couch when Stamkos’ name came up this weekend in Buffalo.
Snow has offered no indication as to who he’s contacted this week. With Okposo on the way out, there’s certainly a need for a high-end forward. Stamkos is as high-end as they come.
If the Isles indeed are interested, expect John Tavares to get involved. He and Stamkos go back to youth hockey together and have remained friends.
The case against, of course, is simply money. If the Islanders were to give Stamkos seven years at $10 million per, what does Tavares command when he becomes a free agent in 2018? It can’t be less or the same. So if it’s $11 or $12 million per, that’s potentially $33-34 million tied up in four players going into an uncertain economic future for the league beyond 2018.
But we’ll have to wait and see what transpires when the market opens on Friday.
There are some other pending UFA forwards who could intrigue the Islanders that will come cheaper than Stamkos. Andrew Ladd is well-regarded around these parts. So is Mikkel Boedker. David Backes could become a more interested party if Nielsen doesn’t return.
The prospects attending this week’s camp reported Monday and there was a pleasant surprise among them: goaltender Ilya Sorokin. The 20-year-old, drafted in the third round in 2014, was the top goaltender in the KHL this season, posting a ridiculous .953 save percentage for CSKA Moscow and taking that team to Game 7 of the Gagarin Cup final.
He’s signed for another year in Russia, but the Islanders made a serious effort to get Sorokin here this week for his first trip to the area. We’ll see if it has an impact next summer. There’s no question he is their top goaltending prospect and possibly their top prospect regardless of position.