The New York Islanders ended free agency with a whimper rather than a roar. It lost some players and added a few more. But it’s the words of one of the departed that leave a bad feeling for us at Eyes on Isles.
As the free agency neared, the outcome began to grow increasingly clearer for the New York Islanders. They would lose Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin, and potentially Frans Nielsen. And likely sign ex-Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd.
That’s precisely what happened. Okposo went to Buffalo, Martin to Toronto, and Nielsen to Detroit. And Andrew Ladd was signed to a five-year deal worth $5.5 million a year.
As fans, we generally brace for the worst in the hopes that we’re pleasantly surprised. The loss of three core members of the team and the addition of an aging veteran whose prime is undoubtedly past him, doesn’t do much to fill us with confidence going forward.
And comments made by Frans Nielsen immediately after making his move to the Detroit Red Wings official leaves a sinking feeling in our stomach.
Playoffs in Doubt
In a phone interview with TSN, Nielsen reveals why he chose the Red Wings. At the 1:03 mark Nielsen states that participating in the playoffs was why he chose the wings.
“I wanted to go somewhere where I felt we had a chance to go to the playoffs […]” Here’s a link to the full interview, so you can hear it for yourself: TSN Video
I know I had an adverse reaction to the comment as soon as I heard it on the radio. I had to listen to it a number of times to make sure I didn’t miss something. But Nielsen is fairly clear in what he says.
He wanted a chance to play in the playoffs. To be fair, going to Detroit is a pretty good guarantee that you’ll play in the playoffs. They’ve made it to the post-season 25-years in a row, the longest playoff streak in the four major North-American sports.
But that’s a pretty heavy indictment of the Islanders, is it not?
Islanders Under Scrutiny
When you look at what Nielsen signed in Detroit versus what he was offered in New York, his comments start to carry a bit more weight. And at the very least, it makes you look at the franchises plan in a different light.
Nielsen signed a six-year $31.5 million deal with the Detroit Red Wings, giving it an AAV of $5.25 million. The Isles reportedly offered Nielsen a deal worth $5.5 million per year ranging from six to seven years in length.
“I wanted to go somewhere where I felt we had a chance to go to the playoffs” -Frans Nielsen
Nielsen obviously rejected the Islanders offer, and ultimately signed for less in Detroit. The question becomes: why did a player who spent 10-years in the organization leave, after finally getting this franchise headed in the right direction?
In the TSN interview, Nielsen states that he wanted a new challenge and that a player starts to become complacent when they stay in one place too long. Both are absolutely fair statements to make, but the comment about playoff hockey still stands out to me.
Does Nielsen see something that some of us don’t? Players receive fairly extensive media training so a comment like the one Nielsen made seems to be earnest and honest. Does he believe the Islanders might not make the playoffs next season, even if he stuck around?
Islanders Leadership Void
A place in the playoffs wasn’t guaranteed for the Islanders until April 5th, with three games left to play in the season. The Isles qualified for the 2016-17 post season through the first wild-card spot in the Eastern conference.
Nielsen was a big part of the Islanders franchise and leadership group last season. He played in and performed well in every single situation. He formed a third of the Islanders leadership group with captain John Tavares and fellow assistant Kyle Okposo.
Is there something that Nielsen saw in the team that made him jump ship? Based on the reports, it seems that the money was right and the term was right to get a deal done. So why jump to Detroit?
For playoff hockey? It’s possible, but does he have so little faith in what’s happening in Brooklyn to believe that the Isles are less likely to make the playoffs than Detroit?