The New York Islanders had four key players approaching unrestricted free agency this off-season, but they have cut that number down to three. The Islanders have announced that they have signed center Brock Nelson to a long-term contract extension. The new deal is six years at $6MM per season for Nelson, who becomes both the highest-paid and longest-signed player on New York’s roster (for now). The full deal breaks down as follows:
- 2019-20: $8.0MM + full no-trade
- 2020-21: $5.2MM + full no-trade
- 2021-22: $8.0MM + partial no-trade
- 2022-23: $5.2MM + partial no-trade
- 2023-24: $5.6MM + partial no-trade
- 2024-25: $4.0MM + partial no-trade
Nelson, 27, bet on himself last summer by signing a one-year, $4.25MM extension with the Islanders in hopes that a breakout season would earn him the long-term, high-paying deal he was seeking. That gamble worked out perfectly, as Nelson enjoyed the best season of his career and had been set to hit the market as likely the third-best center and a top-15 or so free agent. The Islanders knew they had to pay, perhaps even slightly over market value, to keep Nelson and did just that. The six-year term is less of a concern, as Nelson will be just 33 when the contract expires.
New head coach Barry Trotz took an immediate liking to Nelson this season, giving him more than three minutes of extra ice time per night compared to last year, as well as an increased role on special teams. Nelson responded with a career-high 53 points this season and finished third on the Islanders in scoring. He was also New York’s best five-on-five forward, leading the team in even strength goals and points. The team clearly trusts Nelson to continue playing a well-rounded game and growing his offensive ability.
As the first major UFA forward to sign a long-term extension this off-season, Nelson sets the bar for not only his fellow Islanders teammates but for the market as a whole. After signing Nelson, the Islanders still have over $29.2MM in cap space per CapFriendly. The team still hopes to sign forwards Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle, as well as goaltender Robin Lehner. Although Nelson outscored Lee and Eberle this season, the unsigned duo are around the same age as Nelson but have more experience, more scoring history, and simply more talent. The 6×6 deal agreed to by Nelson is unlikely to do the trick for either Lee or Eberle, meaning signing both would chew up more than $12MM of the Islanders’ remaining cap space. It’s still very possible for them to sign all of their key free agents, but not as easy now that Nelson’s deal is in place. Elsewhere on the market, Nelson’s $6MM AAV will likely raise the price tag for the likes of Kevin Hayes, Ryan Dzingel, Gustav Nyquist, and Brett Connolly among others, as each are close in age and platform production to Nelson, albeit Hayes is the only center in the group. This is just the first of what are likely to be several big-name extensions prior to July 1st, but Nelson’s deal will certainly have ramifications in the current marketplace.