The Islanders have three significant unrestricted free agents that need new deals, and if Jiggs McDonald was forced to pick just one to retain, he'd go with Frans Nielsen.
McDonald recently spoke to Patrick Hickey, Jr. of The Hockey Writers. When asked which player he'd choose if he could only keep one of the three UFA, McDonald said that, while he loves all three players, the Isles would probably benefit the most from retaining Nielsen.
"That's like asking me which one of my children I like best. Each individual brings significant value whether in the dressing room, on the ice, or within the community. Put to the wall, it's Frans Nielsen," McDonald said. "His ability to play center or the wing, as well as his shootout talent, is one thing. His defensive abilities are another. Does he hit like Matt? No. Does he equal Kyle's potential goal-scoring numbers? Probably not. Factor in his age, too, and I've got another argument going with myself. But I will stick with keeping Frans on the roster. Doing so probably leaves a little more wiggle room with the cap numbers to replace Kyle and or Matt as well."
Nielsen has had preliminary discussions with the Islanders, but talks have reportedly not progressed past the initial stages.
I agree. I think we take Frans for granted a little bit, but he's probably one of the top two-way centers in the game. He does so much to help this team win, and he's by far and away the Isles best penalty killer. In fact, with a 22 Individual Corsi and a 22 Individual Fenwick (both marks tied for third in the NHL) in all shorthanded situations, he's one of the best PK men in all of hockey. So if the Isles can get him back, I'd love to see Nielsen stay.
That said, it's going to be a little bit of an uphill battle. The Isles are probably looking to make a few significant moves this summer, and in a hard cap league, money becomes a serious factor. Is there a team desperate enough to upgrade their special teams and defense that they seriously overpay for Nielsen? Probably. If Frans gets to free agency, I'm not optimistic. But if Garth can work his magic in the next 13 days, maybe he can get Nielsen to take a little bit of a hometown discount.
Time will tell, but I'm with Jiggs on this one. As much as I love both Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin, Nielsen is the one going to the wall for.