The Nashville Predators may look to answer some looming questions at center by bringing in the New York Islander’s hidden gem.
Frans Nielsen isn’t a name that necessarily turns heads, but it’s one that Smashville should be happy to see stitched on the back of a gold jersey. The 32-year-old center will test the waters of free agency after spending the entirety of his ten-year career as an Islander, and is surely getting a good look-over by Nashville’s front office.
Nielsen anchored New York’s second line through to the second-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season and has served as an Alternate Captain for the club for years. The Dane is fresh off the second 50-point season of his career, marking 52 points (20 goals, 32 assists) while managing a +1 rating and 50.1% faceoff win percentage.
What Does He Bring to Smashville?
Nielsen solidifies the center position, bringing a veteran presence that sures up any unfortunate circumstances that may befall the core of 35+ year-olds behind first line guy Ryan Johansen. He plays a strong two-way game, being consistently present in the top-20 line for the Frank J. Selke Trophy- an award which goes to the forward who best performs in the defensive aspects of the game.
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How does he compare to some known names around Bridgestone? Offensively his 52 points just edge out Mike Ribeiro’s 50 (7 goals, 43 assists), though a clear advantage goes to Nielson for being a 20-goal scorer, crushing Ribeiro’s 37.9% faceoff win percentage, and having the distinct edge in defensive play.
Mike Fisher, also considered a two-way forward, only managed 23 points and a -14 rating before rampaging through the postseason. He is also five seasons removed from any remote Selke Trophy mention, though he did average a nice 53.4% on the dot. If signed, Nielsen immediately takes the second line center role, strengthening and improving the core of the team to an impressive level.
What Will He Cost?
Likely a good amount more than the $3.5 million salary and $2.75 million cap hit he cost the Islanders last year- which is why they’re letting him hit free agency rather than keep him a lifer in New York.
His agents can point out that he statistically outperformed a number of 51-point getters- T.J. Oshie and his $4.2 million season, Patric Hornqvist’s $4.25 million, Carl Soderberg and his $4.75 million, and Jeff Skinner’s whopping $5.75 million outing. They will likely also try to draw comparisons to fellow 52-point scorer Alex Steen and his thick $5.8 million contract.
One could imagine the Nashville Predators willing to pay Nielsen Craig Smith/Mike Fisher money, around the $4.25-$4.4 million mark- tops. They could try to get a discount seeing as how his name won’t sell as many jerseys as the aforementioned skaters, keeping his number closer to the $4 million mark. He won’t approach top-earner James Neal (currently, as Forsberg has yet to ink his deal) at the $5 million mark playing in Nashville.
Should He/Could He/Would He?
Nielsen will only be signed in Nashville at the right price, and with his talent, he’s in prime position to drive a bidding war. He’s surely eager to finally cash in big numbers, as indicated by the Islander’s hands off approach to resigning him.
He may be the free agent splash the front office is looking to make- because even with their above-league-average cap space, they can only make one. Best case scenario- his name gets lost amidst the Steven Stamkos sweepstakes and the Predators sweep in and ink him to an economical deal that allows him to join a team closer to the Cup than he’s ever been. He, along with Johansen, Fisher, a return to form Ribeiro, and second-year player Colton Sissons compose the most impressive center core the franchise has ever seen.
Overly optimistic? Maybe a little. Here’s a theme you’ll be reading whenever free agency is mentioned- the Predators have franchise pieces due for contract renewal in coming years. Now is Filip Forsberg, next year will be Ryan Johansen, and the year after will be James Neal. These are guys you want around, and it will take cap space to do that.
It’s more likely that the front office points their money towards the wing position, but last year’s success may have illustrated the importance of a strong center core- and Mike Ribeiro’s postseason issues may have jeopardized that strength. The Nashville Predators may choose to bring Nielsen in to fix the problem before it begins.