Islanders And Okposo Focus Eyes On Contract

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at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on April 11, 2015 in Uniondale, New York. This is the last regular season game to be played in the building as it stands now. The team will relocate to the Barclay's Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York City starting in the 2015-16 season.

One thing we know as the calendar flipped into August – a wasteland for hockey news – is that the Islanders view Kyle Okposo as a major part of the future of this franchise. One they hope will one day join his teammates in lifting the Stanley Cup and celebrating a championship for the first time since 1983. Even though that moment would happen on the ice in Brooklyn rather than Uniondale is something that has been discussed and argued so much at this point that it’s about time we all move forward with more pressing business and accept the impending reality of the arena situation as ‘it is what it is’.

What doesn’t change is that general manager Garth Snow and his front office management staff have a couple of crucial decisions upcoming in regards to expiring player contracts, arguably none more important than the future of the hulking 6’0, 220 lbs first line winger who has pulled on a blue and orange sweater every season since his NHL debut in 2007-08. Snow was said to have ‘dangled’ Okposo’s name at the NHL draft to several teams, not necessarily looking to move him imminently, but maybe just throwing a line in the water to see what kind of bites he would get.

Some like to discount comparable contracts as not important if the player signing it was in a different contract status (RFA vs UFA for instance), but they do indeed matter to the bottom line negotiations that will take place between the player’s agent and Snow. They are always used as a baseline to determining equal league-wide value for a given player. Of course, other intangibles are factored in but the comparable is always where it begins. This summer has seen Derek Stepan sign for 6.5 million per season, Brandon Saad sign for 6 million and Brandon Sutter for 4.375 million which would have placed Okposo right in the average of those three as a starting point but most disturbing to the Islanders scenario was Ryan O’Reilly signing for an absurd 7.5 million and Jacob Voracek at 8.25 million.

Looking at some of those deals (and others) that have been struck this off-season around the league and Snow’s suddenly tight salary cap situation he finds himself in, things are not looking good for the long-term viability of Okposo remaining Islanders property. It would take a sizable effort on the players part to accept some sort of ‘hometown discount’ to remain being captain John Tavares‘ talisman, anchoring the Islanders first line.

Now, of course, that is not to say that Okposo won’t consider some sort of compromise but the name of the game, in any profession really, is to make as much money as you can in the time allotted for you to accumulate it. In hockey terms, as players age and they approach unrestricted free agency for the first time, they realize they are not getting any younger in a truly physically demanding sport, one where one wrong hit to the head could cost you many years on the sideline with diminishing chances of ever returning (Chris Pronger, Marc Savard as examples). For that reason, players anticipate the day the team no longer controls their contract status with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. Their hope is to secure the long-term financial future for themselves and their families. And nobody should blame them for that.

Just as nobody should blame Snow should an amicable solution not occur and Okposo decides to leave – or be moved – for greener pastures. Over the course of the past 18 months, Snow has proven to be a very shrewd, calculated, intelligent general manager at the NHL level and will do everything in his power to keep the Islanders self-groomed power forward on the roster. But he can only lead the horse to water. He can’t make it drink. And by all accounts, it will most likely have to be the beverage of Snow’s choosing. He might bend slightly, but will never break in negotiations such as this. The Jaroslav Halak, Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk contracts all prove that, as the popular opinion is that all three could have commanded more money on the open market that they never made it to.

Nov 22, 2014; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) celebrates with right wing Kyle Okposo (21) after scoring a goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Islanders won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 22, 2014; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) celebrates with right wing Kyle Okposo (21) after scoring a goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Islanders won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Going back to the intangibles mentioned above that are considered, they are mostly on the part of the player and not the general manager in contract negotiations. There are a couple that were more than likely discussed when the aforementioned three signed their big deals last season. The Islanders are a team clearly on the rise with loads of talent currently on the NHL roster and no shortage of it on the way. The lure of remaining in the Long Island area where Okposo, wife Danielle and new baby are obviously comfortable is yet another. And make no mistake, playing in the fairly new and shiny Barclays Center in Brooklyn is another, where the amenities for the players will be first class and up to date with what is expected by NHL standards.

These are all considerations that Okposo will have to discuss internally with his management team while at the same time, making sure Snow can give him maybe not the most money, but enough to secure Okoposo’s future. At 27 years of age, a maximum seven-year deal from his current club would take him to another UFA opportunity but at age 34, where things get a lot more complicated and skills will no doubt have started to erode.

The detached retina suffered last season, which cost him 22 games, is also a factor on the team’s end. Kyle will convince all that will listen that he is 100% recovered and foresees no complications moving forward but the reality is, will he ever be 100% again in terms of vision and non-risk from re-injury in that eye again? Most experts put the average chances at 50/50 and would not commit to better odds. You can be fairly certain there will be a lot more discussions between Snow and reputable doctors on this subject and every possible angle and possibility will be vetted.

And lastly, there’s the dreaded salary cap. No longer a floor team, the Islanders are quickly becoming a ceiling team. After the inevitable signing of Brock Nelson prior to training camp starting in 39 days, New York will have approximately five million dollars remaining to spend. You can almost certainly add three million to that when Michael Grabner‘s contract comes off the books next season as he seems the most likely to become the odd man out of an almost too deep forward ranks.  Next summer, Ryan Strome demands a new deal, Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin need to be re-signed and then there is the difficult decision of what to do with Frans Nielsen. All IN ADDITION to the Okposo situation. And in three years time, who comes due for a MONSTER extension? Captain Tavares, making it critical the cap is managed more for LATER and less for NOW.

Lots of moving parts, no easy answers.

But there never are in today’s cap driven world of NHL cash management, where player and management often don’t see ‘eye to eye’ in terms of fair valuation.

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