I wrote yesterday about how Garth Snow has a few difficult decisions approaching him on the horizon. We all know that Travis Hamonic has requested to be traded so that he can be closer to his family in Western Canada, but the Islanders also have a handful of key players with contracts set to expire in July. Both Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen, who happen to sit first and third respectively in scoring on the team, are set to hit the open market this summer, and it’s very clear that both will be demanding an upgrade from their modest salaries.
Okposo is in the midst of arguably the best season of his professional career. He’s playing on John Tavares’ wing in generally offensive situations and he’s responded by scoring eight goals, 18 assists, and managing a 50.6 Corsi For percentage at even strength through 31 games. What can Okposo expect to earn on the open market? And will the Islanders be able (and willing) to give it to him?
Over the past few years, Okposo has established himself as one of the league’s best offensive producers managing 0.84, 0.85, and 0.97 points-per-game in 2015-16, 2014-15, and 2013-14 respectively. Since 2013, Okposo has scored 53 goals and 93 points over 162 games, putting him ahead of the Vladimir Tarasenko, Phil Kessel, Jordan Eberle, and many other elite scorers over that time. Diving a little deeper, in that same time, only 12 forwards (that have played at least 2000 minutes) have produced more even strength points per 60 minutes at even strength than Okposo has, and his 2.26 figure has him sandwiched right in-between Thomas Vanek and Rick Nash.
Okposo has signed two contracts in his NHL career. He signed a standard entry-level contract after being drafted seventh overall by the Islanders in 2006, then he signed a five-year, $14 million deal in 2011 that ate up the rest of his RFA years. When you consider the level he’s been producing at over the past few years, and also what those comparable players are making annually, it’s pretty easy to see that somebody is going to be happy to offer the six-foot, 220 pound winger a massive upgrade from his current $2.8 million annual salary.
Obviously there’s still a season (and, in this case, playoffs) to be played, meaning there’s still a chance for Okposo to add to his point totals and potentially increase his value on the market (especially if he goes on a tear right around playoff time). That said, I think General Managers around the league have a pretty good idea of who Kyle Okposo is and what he’s going to be worth. If I had to guess, judging by contracts handed out to players with similar numbers at similar points in their career, Okposo is going to be looking at somewhere in the ballpark of $6.5 million per year over six or seven years.
Is that something the Islanders are going to be willing to pony up? Considering the fact Nielsen will also hitting free agency, Casey Cizikas and Ryan Strome are in need of RFA deals, and then also the possibility of having to deal with finding a replacement for Travis Hamonic depending on how that situations all shakes out, I doubt the Islanders will be able (or willing) to afford to keep Okposo. With that in mind, the Islanders need to weigh the option of either trading him and getting something of value before he likely leaves as a free agent or keeping him for their impending playoff run. Honestly, of all the General Managers out there, Garth Snow may be the most difficult to predict, so it’s hard to say what he’ll do with his impending free agent. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him and Hamonic traded together so that the Islanders can get something in return that both helps their current playoff run and can be controlled in the long run.