This summer, coming to general manager Garth Snow's office near you, the long awaited sequel to the blockbuster hit "The Departed." Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin star in…"The Unrestricted."
Now that we have gotten that poor attempt at humor out of the way, Snow does face some challenges, maybe for the first time in his tenure, in deciding what to do with three very core members of the Islanders organization -- three players who have never worn another sweater in their careers and bring different attributes to the table.
With the unrestricted free agent market looking average yet again outside of superstar Steven Stamkos, Nielsen and Okposo especially will be highly coveted by rival general managers looking to improve their clubs over the summer. Snow will be talking to Nielsen's agent soon and opening up dialogue. As far as Okposo and Martin go, there has been no contact to date and, specifically in Okposo's case, an uphill battle awaits to keep them in the fold.
Yesterday, we opened up our free agent primer by taking a look at the restricted crop. Today, it's the group that will be tougher to get signed -- players who are looking to secure long-term financial stability for themselves and their families, some for the last time.
In the NHL, between 2005 and 2008, the age of unrestricted free agency declined from 31 to 27. As of 2008, any player who is at least 27 years old or has at least seven years of service as an NHL player, and whose contract has expired, will become an unrestricted free agent. On July 1 of each year the free agency period begins, and unrestricted free agents are free to negotiate and sign contracts with any team. Under the old collective agreement, which expired in 2004, draft picks were awarded as compensation when a team lost an unrestricted free agent; however, under the current CBA teams losing unrestricted free agents do not receive any compensation.
In addition, any player at least 22 years of age who has not been selected in the NHL Draft can sign with any team as a free agent.
Any player who is not entry-level, but does not meet the qualifications of unrestricted free agency becomes a restricted free agent when his contract expires.
Kyle Okposo, W, 28 years old, 2015/16 Cap hit: $2.800M, Salary: $4.500M
529 GP - 139 G - 230 A - 369 PTS - 310 PIM - 1346 Shots - 18:33 ATOI
The streaky Okposo goes through stretches where you can see why the Islanders thought they were getting a premier 30 goal per season, bruising winger when they drafted him seventh overall in 2006. The other times, he is invisible, often over-stickhandling himself out of prime opportunities. But he has topped 60 points in two of the last three seasons (and had 51 in 60 GP prior to his eye injury in 2015). That's not easy to do in today's tight-checking game.
John Tavares made a plea at exit interviews about how much he values and relies upon Okposo. But can Snow afford to pay him top dollar, given the inconsistencies in his play?
Frans Nielsen, C, 32 years old, 2015/16 Cap hit: $2.750M, Salary: $3.500M
606 GP - 119 G - 230 A - 349 PTS - 112 PIM - 1157 Shots - 16:55 ATOI - 48.1 FO
If there is an Islanders player who might be irreplaceable, it's Nielsen, who is far and away the best defensive forward on the club. Three straight seasons of over 50 percent possession numbers (and six of nine), despite playing against the top forward opposition. Throw in the fact he has raised his offensive game to where he can now be depended upon for 45-50 points and you have a player who you need to posses on your roster to advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
He's shown a strong desire to be back, and given that Snow will open up offseason conversations with his agent shows the feeling is likely mutual. Nielsen has the most shootout goals of any player in NHL history and has received Selke trophy votes for six consecutive seasons.
Matt Martin, W, 27 years old, 2015/16 Cap hit: $1.000M, Salary: $1.300M
438 GP - 42 G - 46 A - 88 PTS - 680 PIM - 563 Shots - 11:28 ATOI - 2023 Hits
You know what you are going to get with Martin every shift. Maximum effort and a willingness to crash with any member of the opposition, no matter how big or strong. He's part of a fourth line that has developed incredible chemistry and is trusted greatly by head coach Jack Capuano, who likes to employ them right after goals allowed to quickly turn momentum back in New York's favor.
Martin has shown improvement in his skating and turned in career-highs this year in goals (10) and points (19). Another GM might think of him as third line material and offer more than Snow is willing to, however, leading to a true coin flip as to whether he returns.
Steve Bernier, W, 31 years old, 2015/16 Cap hit: $0.750M, Salary: $0.750M
633 GP - 105 G - 125 A - 230 PTS - 300 PIM - 988 Shots - 13:15 ATOI
Bernier played well in the playoffs when inserted into the lineup, but he realistically has no shot at coming back for 2016/17. The offensive pipeline needs to be cleared for the arrival of blue chip prospects. He'll find work elsewhere as grinding forward.
Eric Boulton, W, 39 years old, 2015/16 Cap hit: $0.675M, Salary: $0.750M
654 GP - 31 G - 48 A - 79 PTS - 1421 PIM - 452 Shots - 6:44 ATOI
Beloved in the clubhouse, Boulton was kept around as a cheerleader this season. He keeps the room loose with his sense of humor. But that's not enough to spend almost 700K in cap space on. He's been a very loyal foot soldier and could find work within the organization.
Brian Strait, D, 28 years old, 2015/16 Cap hit: $0.775M, Salary: $0.925M
182 GP - 6 G - 21 A - 27 PTS - 91 PIM - 159 Shots - 16:57 ATOI
Strait caught a lot of flak from the fanbase, but let's be honest: He was brought in as a sixth/seventh defenseman and did that job to the best of his ability. He allowed the Islanders, for good or bad, to give Ryan Pulock more seasoning in Bridgeport before calling the youngster up for good later in the season. At only 28, he'll get a contract from another club.
Marek Zidlicky, D, 39 years old, 2015/16 Cap hit: $2.840M, Salary: $1.500M
836 GP - 89 G - 328 A - 417 PTS - 680 PIM - 1285 Shots - 20:52 ATOI
Zidlicky expectedly wore down as the season progressed. When presented a break later in the year due to an upper body injury, he looked refreshed and played well in playoffs, setting up Alan Quine's game five OT winner in Florida. With Pulock, Pelech and Mayfield around, he will likely retire.
Part 3 -- In the system and Part 4 -- Outside options, coming next week here at SNY.TV Islanders Point Blank.