School is out and it's time for final grades here at Islanders Point Blank. Over the course of the next month, SNY.tv's Brian Erni and I will be taking a look at each of the players and analyzing their 2015-16 performance, from the drop of the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks in October to that 4-0 loss in Tampa that sent New York home amidst roster uncertainty. Contract details via nhlnumbers.com and stats courtesy of hockeyreference.com.
Frans Nielsen, 32, Center
Contract: Unrestricted Free Agent
Season stats: 81 GP - 20 G - 32 A - 52 pts - 181 shots - 17:43 ATOI - 51.1 CF%
Career stats: 606 GP - 119 G - 230 A - 349 pts - 1157 shots - 16:55 ATOI - 50.5 CF%
Frans Nielsen has been with the Islanders his entire career, since entering the league as a 22-year-old rookie in 2006-07. Having just completed his 10th season wearing the blue and orange, the big question heading into the offseason is, of course, will he be returning for an 11th.
The assistant captain is coming off a ridiculously outstanding (for the Islanders, anyway) four-year contract worth only $11M and seems in line for a significant raise. After New York signed center Casey Cizikas to a five-year extension worth almost $17M with an AAV of $3.350M, you can expect Nielsen to be in the four-to-five million annually range pretty easily. And you can bet there are general managers out there who would go even higher should Nielsen make July 1 without a deal.
Does general manager Garth Snow view Cizikas as the heir-apparent to Nielsen? Or just another complimentary piece to a group that has grown up together over the years. That is the big unknown right now after the team announced his signing two weeks ago. We can assume it is the writing on the wall for Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin but with Snow and Nielsen's agent exchanging dialog, the door for Frans to return is still open.
Over the last three years, the Islanders have watched Nielsen grow into one of the top two-way centers in the game. It has earned him six straight years of Selke trophy votes, finishing as high as sixth in 2010-11. He has been an above average (50%) 5v5 possession player the last three seasons and six of nine in his career with the Islanders, numbers made more impressive by the fact he has a career 46-54 split in offensive-defensive zone starts. His career faceoff percentage of 48.1% could use improvement and he has only finished above 50% in that department twice in nine seasons.
Offensively, it has been quite the striking turnaround for Nielsen from his earlier days. In his first 367 games, he scored only 60 goals for an 82 game average of 13. Over the course of his next 239 games, spanning over the last three years, he has potted 59 for an 82 game average of 20, a mark he has hit successfully two of those three seasons. Although those numbers have been aided by being the primary point player on the team's first power play unit, it doesn't totally pad his statistics as he still collected 55% of his goals and 59% of his points at even strength in 2015-16.
So while his offensive game seems to be growing and his defensive game is as strong as ever, often being deployed against the opponents best, where Nielsen goes from here at age 32 is a mystery as of this report. It's hard to project whether a player entering this portion of their career will suffer a slow, steady decline while remaining somewhat productive or a sharp, steep decline that shoves them swiftly into third and fourth line minutes. It's one of the reasons deciding on a contract extension for Nielsen is tricky.
As much as his service to the organization was needed, valued and very much appreciated, I'm not sure Snow wants to be the one handing out a five-year contract extension worth more than five million and taking that risk of just not knowing when the bottom will fall out.
IPB grade: B+
Great season for the well-rounded Nielsen. Will it be his swan song, however?