When you talk about free agents from Long Island this offseason, the conversation immediately goes to Kyle Okposo, the 28-year old winger who tied Steven Stamkos in points last season, or to Matt Martin, the bang-and-crash bottom six guy who everyone seems to want to add. Mostly forgotten, there is another UFA coming out of New York who should be commanding some attention.
Frans Nielsen has always been overlooked, perhaps because of his slender frame, or his Danish heritage – Denmark isn’t known for a flood of NHL players, though there have been some excellent ones – starting on draft day when he was selected deep into the third round. Nielsen has never earned more than $2.75MM in a single season, choosing to re-sign with the team who drafted him well before he became an unrestricted free agent in 2012.
He shouldn’t be overlooked any longer, as the 32-year old has put together an excellent career and comes into this offseason as a top-5 free agent, now that Stamkos and Yandle have both signed.
With, perhaps fittingly, almost no news coming out about Nielsen speaking with teams other than the Islanders, it’s a bit of a mystery where the Dane will finally end up. There are however a few teams who seem to fit with his ability and position perfectly.
In our UFA piece we had Nielsen going to the Red Wings, and after Stamkos re-signed this afternoon that seems even more a possibility. The club already has a young, up and coming center in Dylan Larkin who may be ready for the top line as soon as next season, so may not want to commit to the long-term deal that the other top option, David Backes, is surely to command.
While the Minnesota Wild have a young group of forwards who have shown the ability to play in the top six, they’ve also experimented with both Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund on the wing. If they think they’re more suited there, Nielsen makes a good choice as a steady veteran to put between them on the second line.
Nielsen will be overlooked no more, as he hits this summer looking for one last big deal to finish his career on. If Backes goes early and the rest of the league views him as the next best option down the middle (which they should), he’ll look for a four or five year deal somewhere between $4.5 and $5MM per season. If he settles for a shorter term, he might be able to push just above that $5MM mark, but it would be very surprising to see him get close to $6MM.