DETROIT – Leaving is never easy but for Frans Nielsen, breaking ties with the New York Islanders was made palatable by an offer from the Red Wings.
On the first day of the NHL’s free agency period, the Red Wings extracted Nielsen from the Islanders with a six-year contract.
“Winning a playoff round for the first time in 23 years and we had a good team there now,” said Nielsen during a phone interview with Canada’s TSN. “It’s a tough decision but when Detroit called it’s something special there and at the same time, I felt I’d been in Long Island a long time and thought it might be time to try something new.”
This spring, Nielsen helped the Isles win their first playoff series in eight tries. Prior to this season, New York last won a playoff series in 1993 when they reached the Eastern Conference finals before losing to the Montreal Canadiens in five games.
Nielsen produced three goals and three assists in 11 playoff games this spring. The Islanders defeated the Florida Panthers in a six-game opening round series. They then lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games.
However, the hope created by the Islanders’ minimal playoff success couldn’t outweigh the opportunity that heading to Detroit means to Nielsen, who has played his entire 10-season NHL career in New York.
The 32-year-old Nielsen also holds the NHL record in shootout goals. His 42 goals on 82 attempts (51.2 percent) is ahead of Radim Vrbata (41) and Zach Parise and Jonathan Toews, who have 40 career shootout goals.
For the Red Wings, the Nielsen acquisition should help fill some of the scoring void caused by the departure of Pavel Datsyuk, who announced last month that he wouldn't fulfill the final season of his three-year contract.
Last weekend, general manager Ken Holland was able to trade Datsyuk’s $7.5 million cap hit to Arizona, thus giving the Wings the flexibility to go after Nielsen, who has compiled 119 goals and 349 points in 606 regular-season games.
“With Detroit, especially with them losing Datsyuk, it opened up a perfect spot for me where I’ll be able to play with some pretty talented players,” Nielsen told TSN Friday afternoon.
Nielsen is just one of 12 Danish-born players to ever compete in the NHL, the second with the Red Wings, joining defenseman Poul Popiel, who played two of his 13 NHL seasons with the Wings, from 1968-70.
A factor in Nielsen’s decision was the history of Wings’ organization.
“For sure,” he said. “With my age I wanted to go somewhere where I felt we had a chance to go to the playoffs and even winning. I feel with the talent, the mix of young and old there, that they’re building for a good team again, and I was really excited about that. If I was going to leave New York, winning was going to be a big part of it. I want to win.”
The decision-making process, Nielsen said, was overwhelming.
“There was a lot of good teams but in the end I really liked Detroit,” he said. “Of course I couldn’t just sign off on New York, so it kind of came down to the two of them. I had to make a decision at some point and I just felt like I wanted to try something new – see a new environment, see a new city. Sometimes you can be a little too familiar, a little too comfortable when you’re in a place too long. I felt like I just needed a change.”
But like Mike Green – who signed a free-agent contract with the Red Wings last summer after spending his first 10 seasons in the league with Washington – Nielsen admitted leaving the only NHL town that he’s known is tough.
“I love Long Island, I love the Islanders, I love the group we have here,” Nielsen said. “But in the end it just came down to I felt that I wanted to try something new. It felt like Detroit was the perfect spot for me. I’m really excited about it. I’m excited about the way they play the game. I just think it’s a really good fit.”