There's a lot to digest in the wake of the initial flurry of free agency. Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen have new homes, Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera are coming to Brooklyn, and the Isles still have some work to do.
The Okposo-Ladd exchange is a bit of a strange one. In going with a player two years older, the Isles saved $500,000 per year on the AAV. But it sort of makes you wonder though why GM Garth Snow wanted to move on from Okposo. Did he feel like the Isles needed someone with a Stanley Cup pedigree to come in? Were the Isles worried about the long-term prospects of Okposo's health (i.e. his eye)?
It's impossible to know the reason, but the Isles obviously had reservations about committing to Okposo long-term. This one probably is harder to swallow, because I think most of us assumed Okposo was going to cash in on some deal that would pay him $7-8m million annually. But that wasn't the case.
It seems like Isles could have kept Okposo had they wanted to, although some reports are circulating that Okposo asked for more from the Isles. But I guess both sides were just ready to move on.
Meanwhile, the Isles definitely didn't want to move on from Nielsen, but Frans apparently didn't feel the same. He told SportsNet in Detroit that he "wanted to see a new team, new coaches, a new situation," but the commute to Brooklyn had nothing to do with his departure. That's fine.
People want new challenges. It's why we change jobs, get out of old and into new relationships. It is what it is. But the fact that the Isles offered a seven-year deal and a little more money only for Nielsen to shun them is a shocker, and goes against pretty much everything we thought about the Nielsen situation all year long
What is obvious from the moves the Isles made on Friday is that the organization is placing a premium on playoff experience and leadership. In Ladd and Chimera, the Isles get two leaders, each with their own style, who have a combined 133 NHL playoff games between them (and in Ladd's case, two Cups). Nielsen and Okposo are now both outgoing assistant captains, and it makes you wonder if Snow just felt like his team needed more of an edge.
In that vein, I think these moves take a little locker room pressure off John Tavares, a guy who isn't known to be a huge vocal leader anyway, and brings in more guys like Johnny Boychuk, who are willing to be a little more outspoken in the room. That is the kind of attitude that can really help a team power through some tough spots in the season, and the long grind of the playoffs.
We know that Tavares tends to take slumps a little hard, and by giving him some more veteran support in the locker room, is could help make those ebbs and flows throughout the year a little easier to navigate.
Speaking of Tavares, Darren Dreger reports that the Ladd deal is heavily front-loaded. That's important to note, especially since there has been so much talk lately of Tavares' eventual need for a new contract in the summer of 2019.
That offseason, Nikolay Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski, Josh Bailey, Thomas Hickey, and Jaro Halak ($24.1 million of salary) will all come off the books. Add in that the bulk of Ladd's deal is stacked up front, and the Isles should have gobs of money to throw at their captain, while retaining financial flexibility to give him some help. That's important, especially since young players like Michael Dal Colle, Matt Barzal, and Anthony Beauvillier will just be hitting their first RFA years that summer, too.
All in all, I think it was a productive first day for the Isles. While they lost their mainstays, they grabbed two players who should help change the complexion of the organization, and give this team a bit of a sense of urgency to seize their window for contention right now.
The one knock on Ladd and Chimera is that both aren't great possession players (Chimera specifically), so I'd like to see the Isles add a two-way man to replace Nielsen's defense. But so far, so good.