According to a report from Newsday, multiple sources have indicated the New York Islanders would consider moving right winger Kyle Okposo. The seventh pick in the 2006 draft has long been considered a “core” component for a young Islanders team, so rumors of his availability come as a bit of a shock to many.
However, Kyle Okposo is entering the final year of his contract and will see a massive bump in salary from his current $2.8 million cap hit. Over the last two seasons Okposo has been among the most productive right wingers (120 points) in the game despite missing 33 games over the span due to a knee and eye injury. With fellow right right wingers Ryan Callahan and Bobby Ryan recently inking long-term deals, expect Okposo’s next contract to be in excess of $6 million per year.
This isn’t the first time general manager Garth Snow will have a difficult decision to make regarding one of his most popular players. In the 2013/14, season winger Matt Moulson was in the final year of his contract with the club. Moulson went from AHL obscurity to a perennial 30-goal scorer playing next to superstar John Tavares. Snow didn’t want to meet Moulson’s demands and ultimately sent Moulson, a first, and a second round draft pick for Thomas Vanek. While Vanek produced with the Islanders, he refused to sign with the team and was ultimately dealt at the trade deadline.
Could a similar fate be in store for Kyle Okposo? The team has young forwards Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee who all played significant minutes this past season and all look to be a big part of the team’s future. Down on the farm, 2014 draft picks Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang are likely several seasons away from making an impact with the Islanders.
Despite the team’s offensive prowess in the regular season (fourth most goals scored), trading Okposo would eliminate a huge piece of their offensive puzzle. His versatility to play anywhere on the top six makes him that much more of a valuable commodity. Unless the Islanders are obtaining another top-six forward for Okposo, trading him at this point makes no sense. Moving him for a couple of draft picks, even with an increased emphasis on cheap assets, would be a foolish move by the Islanders.
When Okposo is at the top of his game, he becomes a “bull in a china shop” with the puck, especially along the boards. While he’ll never be the kind of forward that goes end-to-end, dangling through the opposition, his game fits in well with the ugliness of playoff hockey. While there are some questions about whether he is a mere beneficiary of playing with Tavares, he has excelled the past two seasons when split up with the Islanders’ number one center. In fact, one of Okposo’s strengths is his ability to gain instant chemistry with a number of his teammates.
Despite my issues with Garth Snow, I can’t blame him here for doing his due diligence and getting an idea what is out there and possibly available via trade should it come to that. While I think these “leaks” are nothing more than negotiation tactics designed to scare up a scenario with Kyle Okposo, it is not completely far-fetched either. If Okposo is seeking a ridiculous contract (for example, $7 million a year for seven years), Snow’s hand may be forced to move him if they don’t see his value as the same. Would the Edmonton Oilers want Okposo and try to shake up the team and make Jordan Eberle available? It’s well known Toronto would move anything not nailed down- could Phil Kessel be a piece Snow covets? Would Snow go down the same route as Moulson/Vanek and aim for Milan Lucic? It will be a fascinating few days leading up to the draft.
In today’s game of a hard-salary cap, no player is untouchable. However, I think after Tavares, Kyle Okposo is arguably the most untouchable Islander player on the roster. The organization understands his importance and has gone on record a number of times regarding how highly they regard solid character. He’s a leader on a young team and these reports are nothing more than a smoke screen for his next contract. Negotiation 101.
There’s no reason to panic Islander fans…yet.
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