What’s next for Islanders after Brock Nelson signing


The first domino has fallen in the Islanders’ offseason of uncertainty. So now what?

Team president Lou Lamoriello wrapped up his first big pending unrestricted free agent, inking 27-year-old Brock Nelson to a six-year, $36 million deal Thursday. The $6 million annual salary-cap hit proves to be a rather equitable solution for both player and team, even if Nelson is coming off the first 50-point season of his career.

But Nelson was the only player on the team whose numbers increased under first-year coach Barry Trotz, and he was an integral part of the Islanders’ success down the stretch as they obtained 103 points and finished second in the Metropolitan Division. If his play was lackluster in the two postseason rounds — only eight games, sweeping the Penguins in the first round before getting swept by the Hurricanes in the second — it would have been minimized on the open market. Not only do the Islanders have very little organizational depth at center, but there is a lack of depth at center on the open market behind Matt Duchene and Kevin Hayes.

That’s what made this deal the easiest to do. Now comes the heavy lifting.

The biggest obstacle is first-year captain Anders Lee, who will turn 29 on July 3 and is looking for the type of contract that befits the leader of a playoff team and a player who has scored 40 goals in the past and has the 20th most goals in the NHL over the past four seasons, 117. That number, in 325 games, ties him with Nathan MacKinnon (310 games) and Steven Stamkos (254) over that stretch. It’s also one more goal than Artemi Panarin scored in 322 games.

But seven years for Lee is a lot of commitment, and Lamoriello probably doesn’t want to go more than four. The two parties likely could compromise at around $7 million per, but the term has been the sticking point since conversations started at the beginning of the season.

Rest assured, it remains a big sticking point. If Lee gets to the free-agent courting period starting June 23, and he starts hearing some nice things from Wild general manager Paul Fenton about going back to his native Minnesota, that could lead to the Islanders losing their captain for the second straight season (You remember that John Tavares guy, right?). One thing that every agent knows is that trying to play hardball with Lamoriello normally doesn’t work out.

But Lee has a big piece of leverage. If he leaves, it would create a huge hole in the Islanders’ roster. on which the largest problem is the paucity of high-end talent. Lamoriello is surely out there inquiring about what it would take to sign Panarin — especially with the almost open interest from the Rangers. But if the likely outcome does occur and Panarin goes elsewhere, then the market for big-time wingers seems underwhelming. Jeff Skinner had a terrific season in Buffalo, but the type of deal he’s going to get on the open market is not something Lamoriello has been fond of in the past.

Which is also why the Islanders’ other top-six winger, Jordan Eberle, is a bit lower on Lamoriello’s to-do list. The two years Eberle spent with the Islanders, putting up 44 goals in 159 games, were relatively productive. He might get a deal similar to the one he is finishing now, a six-year, $36 million pact. But it might be prudent for Lamoriello to let Eberle test the market and then see what happens.

The one position at which Lamoriello has never liked instability is in nets, and that is where he has to figure out what do with Robin Lehner. A wonderful bounce-back season, both professionally and personally, has the 27-year-old set for a nice payday after finishing as a Vezina Trophy finalist. He obviously needs to think about a lot of things when deciding what he wants to do, but the comfort level with the Islanders, and the chance they gave him to resurrect his life and career, could prove valuable in negotiations. Anything less than five years around $5 million per probably makes sense for both parties.

So, yes, Nelson has signed, and the wheels are in motion. But there is a long way to go before there is any clarity on this Islanders offseason.