Kyle Okposo's Islanders career began in controversy and could end with him leaving for greener pastures this summer as an unrestricted free agent. But in between, it's been a heck of a ride for the former first round selection (7th overall) in 2006 as he prepares to play in his 500th NHL game Tuesday night in Columbus against the Blue Jackets.
In June of 2007, Okposo reconfirmed his commitment to the University of Minnesota to continue his development for the '07-'08 season under the guidance of head coach Don Lucia. But in December, he notified his teammates that he would indeed be leaving the program to begin his NHL journey. At that time, general manager Garth Snow told the Minneapolis Tribune that they weren't happy with the program, which was "not holding up their end of the bargain in working to make Okposo a better hockey player."
Lucia, in USA Today, didn't respond kindly to Snow's comments. "We have had numerous players sign and play in the NHL, but just as important many more move on to have successful careers after graduating from the University of Minnesota. We have always and will continue to work to ensure our players reach their potential on the ice and in the classroom."
Okposo would only play 35 games in 2008-09 for the Islanders' American Hockey League affiliate in Bridgeport, collecting 9-19-28 before being recalled to Long Island on March 18, 2008. It's where he has called home ever since, marrying his wife Danielle in 2012 and welcoming their first child in 2014, all while never wearing another jersey on his back.
Statistically, Okposo has been steadily improving his game since his debut against the Maple Leafs eight years ago. But it hasn't come without its trials and tribulations. Since his first full season in 2008-09, Okposo has played in 83 percent of all eligible contests, missing 101 games with various ailments -- the most serious being shoulder surgery that cost him 44 games in 2011 and a detached retina that caused him to miss 22 games in 2015.
When on the ice, he has proven to be more consistent than some like to give him credit for. Since hovering around the .50 to .65 point per game mark in his first five seasons, Okposo has raised that to .97, .85 and .84 (this year to date) over his last three. Sunday's hat trick against the Oilers gave him 15 goals on the season, tied with Frans Nielsen for third on the team behind Brock Nelson (20) and John Tavares (19). And his 41 points leads the team in scoring. For his career, Okposo has 346 points in 499 games (.69 PPG) and a respectable 50.7 Corsi for percentage.
He's also been productive in the playoffs, albeit in limited games. 5-2-7 in 13 playoff appearances shows that the 6'0, 200 lb winger doesn't shy away when the lights are at their brightest.
But what does all this potentially cost? I don't see any logical way that Snow deals his high-scoring, productive winger with the team still in the midst of a playoff race, regardless of his upcoming contract situation. It would have to be one heck of an offer and many other GMs around the league are not going to want to part with significant assets for what might turn out to be a rental. And there is an argument to be made that the Islanders would not go very far without Okposo and only draft picks in his place.
Currently in the last year of his five-year deal worth $14 million, Okposo rightfully is going to look to do the best thing for his family. Where is the best situation for him to settle in and maximize his earning potential? Turning 28 years old in April, if you factor in a seven-year deal for the winger that takes him to age 35, that would make this potentially his only shot at a big payday and future financial security.
Looking at it from the Islanders perspective, Snow has to do the right thing for the future salary cap structure of the organization. That means looking ahead to whom he has to sign over the coming years, where the actual cap numbers could land (especially in these times of the devaluation of the CAD dollar) and whether Okposo is worth 7 million annually compared to players with similar skill sets.
Just because the league salary structure says Okposo might be worth a certain dollar figure doesn't mean that Snow has to think so. When all is said and done this summer, should Okposo choose to leave, there will almost certainly be fingers pointed in one direction. But maybe there shouldn't be.
For now, let's celebrate a tremendous milestone for a career New York Islander who has left his heart and soul on the ice each and every shift and let the experts deal with the finances later.