NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders have had a tight-knit group for several seasons, one that evolved from 30th in the NHL standings seven years ago to one that won a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 23 years last season.
Come this fall, though, the Islanders are going to have a much different look. Forward Frans Nielsen, who was drafted by New York in 2002, signed a six-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings on Friday. Shortly after that was announced, forward Kyle Okposo, a first-round pick in 2006, left for a seven-year contract with the Buffalo Sabres. Forward Matt Martin, a bruiser on the ice and a pillar in the community since making his NHL debut in 2010, signed a four-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It's the nature of the business in a salary-cap world, a challenge for general managers to keep the core of a team together. Islanders general manager Garth Snow knew Okposo likely would be too expensive for his liking to re-sign, but he apparently tried his best to keep Nielsen. In the end, Nielsen, who played 606 games and 10 seasons in New York, simply wanted a change.
"They gave me a really fair offer, and to be honest, it was one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make," Nielsen told Sportsnet. "I think, in the end, I've been here so long. I wanted to try something new, see some new people, new coaches, and you want to get better, even when you're older. This was a good opportunity for me to see something else."
Video: Andrew Ladd signs with Islanders
It had been apparent for a while that Okposo wasn't returning to the Islanders; the forward had 64 points last season and entered Friday as one of the top unrestricted free agents on the market. But Snow knew he couldn't let Okposo walk without getting a similar player in return. He has that in Andrew Ladd, who was in New York on Thursday and agreed to terms on a seven-year contract Friday worth $38.5 million, according to TSN.
It should be a great fit for the Islanders, who are adding a 30-year-old player with two Stanley Cup championships; Ladd, who brings 64 games of playoff experience, won a title with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 (alongside Islanders assistant coach and assistant GM Doug Weight) and with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, and later became captain of the Winnipeg Jets. Not only will Ladd likely play the left side on the top line with Islanders captain John Tavares, he'll alleviate some of the leadership burden Tavares carries.
"I talked to John before I headed out to Long Island (on Thursday) and he texted me today," Ladd said. "I know him a little bit from [the] World Championships and having played with him there. I'm beyond excited to have a chance to play with someone of his caliber.
"I've had the opportunity to play with a [Jonathan] Toews and a [Patrick] Kane (in Chicago), those types of generational players, and I think he's one of those guys. I can't wait. Hopefully we find some chemistry pretty quick. It'll be fun to have the opportunity to play with him."
Video: WSH@PIT: Fleury pokes puck off Chimera's head and in
Jason Chimera also signed with the Islanders on Friday. He is a 37-year-old forward who plays much younger and is coming off a 20-goal season with the Washington Capitals. Chimera said Friday that the Islanders were one of the more interested teams that reached out to him over the past week. Between that and the chance to play with Tavares, he's excited to try to help New York achieve its ultimate goal.
"They've got probably one of the best leaders that there is in the game in Tavares," Chimera said. "You see the way they play night in and night out. They were one of the teams that showed interest right away. They showed that initial interest, so it's always nice to have that.
"I just like the makeup of their team. They're knocking on that door every year, and hopefully I can help them get over that hump. I'm one of those guys who wants to win a Stanley Cup pretty badly, so it'll be a good fit going forward."
It would have been catastrophic to Snow's plan had he not been to adequately replace the caliber of players who departed Friday. But with Ladd and Chimera, the Islanders should be able to move forward. Ladd certainly believes the pieces are there; if he didn't, he probably wouldn't have signed on for what could be the rest of his career.
"I think they're definitely headed in that direction," Ladd said. "Obviously a young group, but a team that's been in the playoffs three of the last four years. They're turning in the right direction. They have a lot of their [defensemen] signed long-term and [are] in a great situation cap-wise to add players and keep this thing going in the right direction.
"I think any team with John Tavares on it and the goaltending and the defense that the Islanders have, they're very close. I'm looking forward to the challenge with helping this team get to the next level, and that's a Stanley Cup."