Kyle Okposo thanked the New York Islanders fans in a post on the Players’ Tribune. This offseason, the free agent signed a seven-year, $42 million deal to become a member of the Buffalo Sabres, ending his nine-year career with the Islanders.
New York selected Okposo seventh overall in the 2006 NHL entry draft. The Minnesota native got off to a slow start in his professional career, but came on strong as the Isles maneuvered their way to being a playoff contender. He played in just nine games his first season in the NHL, but back-to-back 30-plus point seasons followed. Okposo never became an elite goal scorer, but he’s certainly on that second tier at this point in his career. He has 67 goals over the last three seasons and averaged .88 points per game for the Islanders during the same time frame, the latter of which ranks 17th in the NHL.
Okposo registered 369 points as an Islander, but his contribution was more than that. He played in 79 games in 2015-16, the third time he played that many games in a season, not including the strike-shortened season of 2012-13 when he played in all 48 contests.
Playing alongside John Tavares on New York’s top line as well as next to Frans Nielsen, Okposo didn’t have to carry the scoring load. Instead, he was an effective shooter and generous scorer. He gave Tavares and Nielsen a running mate and consistency that the Islanders lacked for a number of years. Okposo saw action with Tavares 39.37 percent of shifts last season, with Nielsen 41.09 percent and with both 11.46 percent of the time.
It took six years for the team to make the postseason. It then made it three of four seasons and nabbed its first playoff series win. That wasn’t all thanks to Okposo obviously, but he played a large part in the growing success of the franchise. That steady influence will need to be replaced.
New York’s offseason attempt to replace Okposo’s production was to sign veteran winger Andrew Ladd. Ladd is a few years older than Okposo, but has been just as prolific a scorer and brings the toughness and grit that may have left with Okposo. The odd thing is general manager Garth Snow seemed inclined to let Okposo leave in free agency because he didn’t want to pay him a long-term deal. Before free agency even began, Snow was quoted as saying, “Kyle is a great person and has been a terrific player for this organizatioon. I wish him nothing but the best.” But while Buffalo signed Okposo for seven years, the Islanders ended up doing the same with Ladd, and for similar terms.
Moving on isn’t necessarily a bad decision, but it will take time for Ladd to find and build a relationship with Tavares, assuming the former is indeed slotted in on the team’s top line. With Nielsen also signing with another team, it will be even more important for New York to build a comfortable top line. The fact that Ladd is already over 30 doesn’t help the idea of creating a combination for the future, but again, he is signed for seven years now.
Okposo wasn’t the big name that Tavares is. His output may not be missed for long if the newcomers and young guys pick up the slack, but his departure will be felt. Snow felt that that schism was unavoidable, which ended up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.