It was the news that was feared the moment that Anders Lee was injured in Thursday night’s win over the Devils and then when the Islanders placed their Captain on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) on Sunday.
“Anders Lee will undergo surgery this week and will be out for the season,” said Islanders President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello on a Zoom meeting with reporters on Wednesday morning.
Lee will also miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs should the Islanders qualify for the post-season.
Lamoriello also confirmed that it was an ACL injury but that the expectation, after hearing from the doctors about the type of injury that it is and the type of rehab that is involved, is that Lee will be ready to go for the start of the 2021-22 season.
“We feel that he will be ready for next season,” said Lamoriello. “We have all indications of that. Certainly, knowing the character and discipline of Anders and the rehab that he will be so diligent at that he will be ready for next season. The doctors are extremely comfortable with 100 percent recovery.”
According to Lamoriello, the rehab for this type of injury is not going to be as bad as a lot of other ACL injuries because there was no other damage suffered.
Islanders Have The Cap Room To Make A Trade:
But now, the Islanders have to figure out a way to compensate for the loss of their Captain who had scored a team leading 12 goals at the time of the injury. With Lee being place on LTIR, the Islanders can now use a portion of his salary to go over the cap if Lamoriello is able to make a move or two before the NHL trading deadline on April 12th. Lamoriello was certainly calling around to see if he could improve the team before Lee was injury but now the mindset has changed.
The Islanders now have the cap room and will actively pursue a way to improve the lineup, but Lamoriello will only pull the trigger if it makes sense.
“Whatever we can do to make ourselves better, we will be doing that,” said Lamoriello. “(Lee’s injury) certainly changes our focus. If we can get ourselves better, we will. But we will not do something just for the sake of doing it.”
While Lamoriello is eager to make a move that not only can help fill the void left by Lee’s injury but also can put the Islanders in a better position to compete for the Stanley Cup, it’s just not that easy to make trades during this climate that exists right now in the NHL. As the league continues to navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, the salary cap is going to remain flat for the 2021-22 season. That’s going to make it difficult for playoff contenders like the Islanders and clubs looking to sell off assets to be able to come together on trades.
“There’s so much unknown,” said Lamoriello. “You have to think beyond just this year when you make a decision because the cap is going to be flat next year. Any contract that you take on that is more than one year is going to disrupt whatever you’re doing next year and will put you in worse shape.”
Islanders Have Some Options:
One option for the Islanders could be on the way from overseas.
Russian winger Anatoly Golyshev, a 4th round pick (95th overall) by the Islanders in 2016, terminated his contract with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg of the KHL on Tuesday and could soon be Long Island bound.
And it certainly appears that the Islanders are interested.
“He does want to come over to play and see what he can do,” said Lamoriello. “Now we will speak to him and see what his thoughts are. There is a chance that he will be coming over.”
While the addition of Golyshev is an intriguing possibility, the primary focus for Lamoriello and the Islanders right now is trying to make a trade that would bring a scoring winger to Long Island, whether it’s a rental or a player with one year remaining on his contract that could fit into the Isles’ plans for next season.
Lamoriello could try to acquire Long Island native Kyle Palmieri from the Devils. The veteran right winger has four goals and eight assists this season for New Jersey and it was Lamoriello who acquired Palmieri from Anaheim when he was the Devils’ General Manager.
Some other potential targets for the Islanders include…
Sabres left wing Taylor Hall (UFA with a cap hit of $8 million)
Ducks right wing Rickard Rakell (1 year left with a cap hit of $3.79 million)
Red Wings right wing Bobby Ryan (UFA with a cap hit of $1 million)
Canucks left wing Tanner Pearson (UFA with a cap hit of $3.75 million)
Senators left wing Ryan Dzingel (UFA with a cap hit of $3.375 million)
But what if the Islanders are not able to make a trade that makes sense?
So far this season, there has been contributions from young players like Oliver Wahlstrom who become a force with six goals and five assists. Also, Kieffer Bellows was inserted back into the lineup on Saturday and scored two goals against the Devils before adding another goal on Sunday in New Jersey. Does Lou think the roster is good enough as is?
“Yes, I do,” said Lamoriello. “I think that what we have right now is we have balance throughout the lineup. The young players who have come in have done an exceptional job and they work very hard. They were ready when the opportunity came. They also know that it’s going to get a little tougher as you go towards the end of the season but I think they’re ready for that.”
Another concern for the Islanders is potentially disrupting team chemistry with a trade. We’ve seen over the last few years, especially during the playoffs in the bubble, just how close-knit this group is and that will certainly be a consideration during trade discussions. The objective is to make addition(s) without subtracting from the comradery that the Islanders have in that locker room.
“You have to be very careful,” said Lamoriello. “Chemistry to me is as important as anything. Whatever we can do to get better we will.”
There is no filling the skates of Anders Lee. He is the Islanders’ Captain and is the heart and soul of the team on and off the ice. But what Lou Lamoriello can do is bring in a player or perhaps players that can help fill the scoring void and perhaps assume Lee’s role on the ice in terms of getting into the dirty areas and being a huge factor on the power play.
Whether the help comes from within, overseas, or via trade, the singular focus for the Islanders will be continuing to collect points to secure a playoff spot and then try to make another run at Lord Stanley.