Veteran Nelson back in fold with Islanders
Sign steady returning Center to one-year deal, avoid arbitration
Brock Nelson has never really been the key to the New York Islanders’ success.
But the veteran center and former first-round pick is at least viewed as a key ingredient for the Brooklyn-based franchise in the post-John Tavares era.
New team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello kept Nelson in the fold on Monday night, avoiding next month’s scheduled arbitration hearing with the 26-year-old Minnesota native by inking him to a one-year pact, reported to be worth $4.25 million.
Nelson, who was selected 30th overall by the Isles back in 2010, had scored at least 20 goals for three consecutive seasons before falling just short with 19 last year, when the Isles missed the playoffs for a second straight campaign.
His 35 points in 2017-18 were his lowest since amassing 26 during his rookie campaign in 2013-14, but Nelson was also one of only four New York players to skate in all 82 regular-season games.
Having missed only two contests over the previous four seasons, Nelson has been one of the more reliable, though unspectacular, core members of this unit, which is hoping to return to the playoffs despite the loss of its team captain via free agency earlier this month.
The Isles offered a qualifying offer of $3.5 million to Nelson, who was coming off a three-year, $7.5 million pact, but averted the business of going to an arbiter by coming up with a figure he and his agent could agree upon.
Lamoriello, who has had a busy three-week stretch since Tavares defected to his native Toronto, re-signed Ryan Pulock and Thomas Hickey while bringing forwards Leo Komarov and Valtteri Filppula.
He also signed former Buffalo goaltender Robin Lehner in the hopes of strengthening a defense that surrendered the most shots and goal in the NHL a season ago, offsetting an offense that ranked seventh in the league with 3.18 goals per game.
Lamoriello’s biggest move of this offseason was bringing in reigning Stanley Cup-winning head coach Barry Trotz from the Washington Capitals.
“Obviously, [we] can score, but the biggest problem is keeping [the opposition] out of the net,” Trotz ceded in a recent interview on SiriusXM radio.
“We have a lot of work to do, but the people that we’ve added should help. There is a new commitment by myself, Lou and ownership.”
With an estimated $10 million in salary cap space remaining ahead of the 2018-19 campaign, Lamoriello may not be done adding players.
But to this point, he has, at the very least, kept intact the core of offensive talent the team will need to offset the loss of Tavares and complement the talents of new front-line center and reigning Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal.
“[The franchise] is headed in the right direction, although it’s a big blow to lose John Tavares,” Trotz added. “The future is really bright for the Islanders. We’re right around the corner to doing something great.
“You look at a dynamic player like Barzal, the future looks good going forward. I think our depth is better than it’s been in a while … We’re going to put something good together really soon here.”
New York, which will split home dates between the Barclays Center and renovated Nassau Coliseum for the next three seasons until its new arena is built in Elmont, N.Y., will open their preseason slate on Sept. 16 at NYCB Live, home of the Coliseum.
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In other local sports news, Cyclones ace Jaison Vilera just keeps putting up bagels.
The fast-emerging Brooklyn right-hander capped Sunday’s doubleheader sweep of Lowell with his latest gem, tossing 5 2/3 scoreless frames in the team’s 4-0 victory in the nightcap in front of 4,696 fans at Coney Island’s MCU Park.
Vilera worked around five hits and two walks while fanning five to extend his scoreless innings streak to 21 2/3 frames.
The 21-year-old Venezuelan apparently took the franchise’s “Brooklyn Bagels”-themed uniforms to heart, remaining unscored upon since surrendering two runs over seven innings against Aberdeen back on July 5.
Vilera is likely to be a New York-Penn League All-Star and is an early candidate for the league’s annual Pitcher of the Year honor. He improved to 4-1 following Sunday’s effort, and is tied with Mahoning Valley’s Luis Oviedo for the lowest ERA (0.92) on the entire 14-team circuit among qualifying starters.
His 0.87 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) and 48 strikeouts in 39 innings this summer also make him one of the more dominant hurlers the Cyclones have had since Hansel Robles was named NY-Penn Pitcher of the Year in 2012.
Brooklyn, which bested the Spinners 3-2 in Sunday’s opener, got a much-needed day off Monday after improving to 20-16 on the season, 3 1/2 lengths behind Hudson Valley for first place in the McNamara Division.
The Cyclones had won three in a row of five of their last seven heading into Tuesday night’s opener of a three-game set at Mahoning Valley.
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