When Barry Trotz was named the Head Coach of the Islanders back in June of 2018, one of the first things that he did was to talk to each of the players. The objective for Trotz was to get to know them and ask them some questions with one of the last questions being a very important one…
Who should be the new Captain of the Islanders?
Ten days after Trotz became the Islanders coach, John Tavares left the team to sign as a free agent with the Toronto Maple Leafs creating a huge void, not just in terms of offensive production but also in terms of leadership on and off the ice. Trotz asked each player to list their top three candidates to replace Tavares as Islanders Captain.
“It was almost unanimous that the number one spot was Anders Lee,” said Trotz during a Zoom meeting with reporters on Thursday morning in advance of Thursday night’s 6-3 loss to the Capitals in Washington, the 500th game of Lee’s National Hockey League Career.
Trotz didn’t know much about Lee when he took the Islanders’ Head Coaching job other than that he was “really strong and hard to play against as an opponent.”
How Anders Lee Became Islanders Captain:
What Trotz didn’t know was Lee the person and his poll of the players about the captaincy spoke volumes about the Islanders’ 6th round pick (151st overall) in the 2009 NHL Draft, the same draft in which the Islanders took Tavares first overall. After each player told Trotz who their top three choices for Captain were, the Islanders new Head Coach then followed up with why they picked who they did number one.
The responses about Lee told Trotz all he needed to know to make a decision.
“They always said that he’s a good pro and he does everything the right way and he cares about the whole group,” said Trotz. “They all felt that he would be a good representative for the “C” and it was a pretty easy decision when everybody is saying that this guy should be the Captain.”
Anders Lee’s Road To 500 Games As An Islander:
Lee played his college hockey at Notre Dame where he scored 61 goals and 45 assists for 106 goals in 169 games over three seasons with the Fighting Irish. He turned pro after Notre Dame’s 2012-13 season was over and immediately joined the Islanders scoring a goal in his first NHL game on April 2nd, 2013 against the Winnipeg Jets. The following season, Lee scored 22 goals and 19 assists for 41 points for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders’ affiliate in the American Hockey League. He also scored 9 goals to go along with 5 assists for 14 points over 22 games for the Islanders.
In 2014-15, Lee played his first full season with the Islanders and now he is the 32nd player in team history to play in 500 regular season games.
“I think all of us realize how lucky we are to be in these positions to play hockey,” said Lee, who scored a goal in his 500th game on Thursday night. “I’ve been able to live out my dream here a little bit and I can’t believe it’s been 500 games already. I’m looking forward to the rest of my career here. It’s pretty cool.”
Lee was able to reflect on 500 games a little bit on Thursday morning, but it was hard to celebrate it after the game as the Islanders couldn’t hold a 3-0 lead and lost their third straight game dropping their record to 3-4.
“We’ve been here before,” said Lee as the Islanders now move on to play the Flyers in Philadelphia on Saturday and Sunday.
“We’ve had tough stretches. We closed out last regular season not too well. This is a tough time to have a bad start. There’s no excuse for that and we got to right this ship right away. We got a great chance to do it with a couple of games in Philly bit it starts on Saturday.”
The Islanders certainly have faced some adversity over the last couple of seasons since Trotz came on board as Head Coach and Lee was named Captain. That combination has worked well together by selecting the right words to say, but also with Lee’s leadership on and off the ice.
“He’s been great with me and with his teammates,” said Trotz. “We have good communication lines and I think that helped that transition for him and now I think that transition is over and he’s the Captain.”
The Islanders’ 500 Games Played List Will Continue To Grow:
So, who’s next to play in 500 games as an Islander?
Barring an injury, illness, or trade, Cal Clutterbuck (485) should be next and then Nick Leddy (469).
These aren’t just good players who have enjoyed longevity with the Islanders…they’re good people and good leaders and it’s a big reason why the Islanders have had some success, especially in last year’s playoffs.
But when you talk about leadership, it all starts with Anders Lee.
In the era of free agency and the salary cap, it’s hard to find too many players that are with the same team for a long period of time. However, the Islanders have a group of players that have worn the Islanders sweater to the tune of at least 500 career games including Josh Bailey, Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Brock Nelson. The newest member of that fraternity is Captain Anders Lee and sometime next season, knock on wood, we’ll be talking about him joining the 600-game club.