A few weeks after Bobby Nystrom scored the overtime goal to give the Islanders’ their first Stanley Cup in 1980, his first offer from general manager William A. Torrey included a $5,000 reduction in pay. Those were different times. Nystrom never gave much thought to free agency.
“None of that stuff would have mattered,” Nystrom said in a phone conversation late Monday night. “I wouldn’t have left the Islanders anyway.”
I decided to have a father-to-father chat with Mr. Islander – also known as the son of Eric of the Calgary Flames – when the news broke that the Islanders did not give a qualifying offer to Sean Bergenheim. Just like that, Bob Nystrom’s old team had even more money under the salary cap floor to sign unrestricted free agents beginning Thursday. At the ripe young age of 27, fiery forward Eric Nystrom will be available to any NHL team for the cost of a contract.
Of course, I did not expect Bob to specifically discuss whether his son would be comfortable playing at home. The call was more to learn about his role as advisor, NHL veteran of 900 games, and very proud papa.
“As a father, you just want to see your son go to a place where he’ll be happy and have an opportunity,” said Bob Nystrom, a Long Island resident for almost 30 years now. “Money is always going to be part of it, but let’s face it: just about all of these players do well nowadays. If Eric is a free agent on July 1 and is fortunate enough to garner some interest, I suspect he’s going to look more at the franchise’s reputation and the state of the team. He’ll want to look at who is on the team and if there is a good role for him. He’ll want to try and figure out where he fits best.”
That’s when I mentioned to Bob about the Islanders’ decision to not extend a Q.O. to Sean Bergenheim.
“Hmm…that’s interesting,” said Nystrom. “I didn’t know that. I…well, I guess that maybe opens up some space on the roster. I guess that could open up a door. I don’t know. Eric and I haven’t spoken much about it yet. He has an agent (Wade Arnott) and I’m sure they’ll talk things through.”
After his freshman season in Michigan, Eric Nystrom was drafted tenth overall in 2002 by the Calgary Flames. Scouts did not project him as a big scorer, but a supreme role player who could bang in 20 goals a season after gaining some experience. After some time shuffling back and forth from the minors, Eric was with the Flames for the entirety of the last two seasons. Playing almost exclusively on the third and fourth lines, he had only 16 goals and 29 points over 158 games.
If the Islanders extend a contract offer later this week, it won’t be with expectations of Eric becoming something he is not. This would be a major signing in name, intangibles and one big newspaper headline only; no one is saying Eric Nystrom would put the Islanders over the top.
But with role players such as Jon Sim and Richard Park all but gone, the Islanders could do a heckuva lot worse than signing a 6-1, 200-pound, hard-hitting wing with Long Island roots and the ultimate Islanders bloodlines. He’ll stick up for teammates with the occasional middleweight scrap. His presence would make a segment of the fanbase feel even better about the Islanders. No doubt Scott Gordon, who coached Nystrom at the World Championships in Germany in May, will be asked for his opinion. The cost per year would be less than half the average salary of an NHL player.
While he and his wife Michelle would be ecstatic if their son returned home to play hockey, all Bob Nystrom wants is the best for Eric.
“I’ll admit this: if he leaves Calgary, which is pretty far away, the Eastern Conference would not be so bad,” the four-time Stanley Cup winner said with a laugh. “I’m just so proud of the player and the man Eric has become. The NHL TV season pass has been a godsend, but I would go anywhere to see him play. Above everything else, if Eric has the opportunity to consider a few teams, my biggest wish is that he ends up where he’ll be the happiest.”
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