Decision Day looms for Kyle Okposo, now the most sought after free agent of 2016

Ken Campbell
Kyle Okposo. (Graig Abel/NHLI  via Getty Images)

Practice has been over for a half an hour, and the dressing room is largely empty. Most of the New York Islanders have already showered and changed into their civvies, strictly adhering to the NHL off-day dress code of sweat pants and backward ball caps. Some are already on their way out of the rink. A lot of them take the Long Island Rail Road home from the team’s practice facility in Syosset, N.Y., and it’s on a schedule. Welcome to the real world, fellas.

As the dressing room empties, Kyle Okposo remains slumped in his stall, still in full equipment, save for the Islanders cap replacing his helmet. His legs are splayed, his fingers intertwined as they rest on his chest. He’s in no rush to move along. In fact, he looks as though he’s getting ready to go out and take another twirl. Perhaps it’s because he has a two-year-old and a newborn at home and realizes the chaos that awaits him. Or it could be that this is where he feels most comfortable. He speaks easily and relaxed, not the least bit ill at ease or scripted. Finally, a member of the training staff stands in front of him with the bin full of practice sweaters, hoping he’ll take the hint. “Oh, sorry,” Okposo says, peeling off his sweater. “I’m kind of in La-La Land here.”

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Islanders reportedly working on long-term deal with Frans Nielsen

Jared Clinton
Frans Nielsen (Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

Frans Nielsen may not be the most offensively gifted unrestricted free agent about to hit the open market, but the 32-year-old pivot is among the few true two-way centers available to be had when free agency opens on July 1. That is, if Nielsen gets as far as free agency.

With how important Nielsen has become to the Islanders’ second line, it appears GM Garth Snow is going to make a serious push to lock up the center before July 1 rolls around, and with a number of free agent talent ready to hit the market, including scoring winger Kyle Okposo and fourth-line grinder Matt Martin, it looks as though the main focus for Snow is becoming Nielsen.

Newsday’s Arthur Staple reported Saturday that Snow and Nielsen’s agent, Marc Levine, have been in contact over the past few days and talks are apparently circling around a long-term deal that could see Nielsen remain with the Islanders for the foreseeable future. And given that it at one point looked as though Nielsen may hit the open market, finding a way to lock him up would be excellent for New York. Read more

There’s ‘nothing new’ on the contract front for Islanders and free agent-to-be Nielsen

Jared Clinton
Frans Nielsen (Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

New York Islanders GM Garth Snow has a busy June ahead of him that will include some big decisions to make on the free agent front.

All told, Snow has 21 free agents to decide whether or not to bring back or cut ties with, 12 of which are of the unrestricted variety. And while it seems like a foregone conclusion one top free agent, winger Kyle Okposo, will test the open market — that could be the case for fourth-liner Matt Martin, too — it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if Snow brought back center Frans Nielsen on a new deal. That still might be the case, but according to Newsday’s Arthur Staple, there’s “nothing new” brewing between Nielsen’s agent and the Islanders.

With free agency less than a month away, that could mean the 32-year-old finds himself hitting free agency, and he’s almost certain to generate some serious interest if that’s the case. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Could Evgeni Malkin hit the trade block?

Evgeni Malkin (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Could the 2016 Stanley Cup final be the last time we see Evgeni Malkin in a Pittsburgh Penguins uniform? That’s the opinion of Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos, who believes the Penguins could trade the 29-year-old center in the off-season.

Kypreos and colleague Doug MacLean cite Malkin’s lack of speed in the 2016 playoffs, especially in five-on-five situations. “He (Malkin) wants to play a slower game than they (the Penguins) want to play,” MacLean said. Kypreos thinks this summer couldn’t be a better time for the Penguins to move Malkin, suggesting it makes no sense for them to move forward with he and Sidney Crosby both on the payroll.

MacLean wonders how good Malkin would look in Montreal if the Canadiens don’t get Tampa Bay Lightning captain (and pending free agent) Steven Stamkos this summer. He also suggests the Vancouver Canucks as a destination.

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Islanders ink ‘invaluable’ Cizikas to five-year, $16.75 million deal

Jared Clinton
Casey Cizikas (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Casey Cizikas has cashed in on his career year by turning it into a long-term extension with the New York Islanders.

The Islanders announced Thursday afternoon that Cizikas, 25, has signed a five-year deal to stay with the club. Newsday’s Arthur Staple reported the new contract is worth $16.75 million total, meaning Cizikas’ deal will carry a hefty cap hit of $3.35 million for each of the next five seasons. The contract comes at the culmination of Cizikas’ two-year, $2-million contract that ended this past season and saw Cizikas heading towards July 1 as a restricted free agent.

Cizikas, who was one-third of one of the most beloved fourth lines in hockey last season alongside Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin, signs his new deal following the most productive season of his career. In 80 games during the 2015-16 campaign, Cizikas notched eight goals and a career-best 29 points while averaging nearly 13 minutes of ice time per game.

“Casey has developed into a highly dependable two-way center and we’re pleased to sign him through 2021,” Snow said in a release. “His energy and passion both on the ice and in the community, make him an invaluable piece of our lineup.” Read more

Rumor Roundup: Thomas Greiss’ success means Jaroslav Halak could hit the trade market

Thomas Greiss.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

Goaltender Thomas Greiss’ solid performance filling in for sidelined starter Jaroslav Halak could spell the end of the latter’s tenure with the New York Islanders. Newsday’s Arthur Staple reports Isles GM Garth Snow sang Greiss’ praises, suggesting he’s ready to be a full-time starter.

Staple notes the Islanders currently carry three netminders with Halak, Greiss and promising J-F Berube. He points out the oft-injured Halak voiced his displeasure over the setup and suggests there’s a rift between the veteran and management.

The 31-year-old Halak has two years remaining on his contract. He could hit the trade block this summer. Staple doubts he’ll fetch much of a return and would be more of a cost-cutting deal for other roster moves.

Halak also lacks a no-trade clause and there are clubs (Calgary, Carolina, Toronto) in need of goaltending depth. However, his injury history and $4.5-million annual cap hit could adversely affect his trade value.

WHAT IS PANTHERS LONG-TERM PLAN WITH GUDBRANSON?

The Florida Panthers recent re-signing of defenseman Erik Gudbranson to a one-year, $3.5-million contract extension raised some eyebrows. The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa notes the 24-year-old Gudbranson is of the age where high-end blueliners like himself get multiyear deals. Shinzawa speculates Panthers management might not be enamoured with him.

Harvey Fialkov of the Sun-Sentinel claims the move was made to provide the Panthers with salary-cap flexibility for next season to re-sign rising center Vincent Trocheck. He also reports they’re among the clubs interested in former NHL winger Alexander Radulov, who spent the last four seasons in the KHL.

Gudbranson already has five seasons under his belt with the Panthers. Despite missing time this season to a concussion, he was among their leaders in hits (150), blocked shots (73) and ice time (20:06). He also averaged over 26 minutes of ice time per game in the post-season.

Gudbranson’s ongoing improvement as a shutdown defenseman should keep him part of the Panthers’ long-term plans. If not, he’ll attract considerable interest via free agency next summer.

EXPECT ONLY MINOR CHANGES TO CAPITALS IN OFF-SEASON

Don’t expect the Washington Capitals’ early playoff exit to result in a significant roster overhaul.

Earlier this week, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan addressed the media for the first time since his club’s elimination by the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshuyan reports MacLellan is “pretty content” with his core. He’ll look at bolstering the third line, specifically his ninth or tenth forwards.

MacLellan also intends to get restricted free agents Marcus Johansson, Dmitry Orlov, Tom Wilson and Michael Latta re-signed. His plans to tweak his third line could mean cutting loose unrestricted free agents Mike Richards and Jason Chimera. The 37-year-old Chimera, however, tells Khurshudyan he hopes to return with the Capitals next season.

Adding speed and scoring to the third line is crucial. The Penguins third line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel did the most damage to the Capitals in their second-round series. MacLellan will likely attempt to emulate that model.

Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).

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