On May 28th, Islanders forward Mat Barzal was answering questions from reporters on a Zoom meeting as the Isles were getting ready to start round two against the Boston Bruins. When he was asked about Captain Anders Lee still being around the team despite being out for the season with a knee injury, Barzal said something that certainly caught the attention of everyone who was on the Zoom.
“Seeing his progression, who knows if we get him back or not,” said Barzal.
I was on that Zoom and my first thought when I heard that was that perhaps the timetable for Lee’s return had changed. Lee had been ruled out for the season, but now one had to wonder if perhaps there was now a chance that he could return later in the post-season.
A few minutes later, that theory was laid to rest.
“No, said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “Same timetable. You will not see him in the playoffs this year.”
Lee continues to work hard in his rehab from an ACL injury suffered on March 11th during a 5-3 win over the Devils at Nassau Coliseum. We haven’t heard from Lee since then, but he has been around the team on a regular basis, including during the playoffs. In fact, he was the center of attention on Monday morning when he was on the ice at TD Bank Garden following the Islanders’ morning skate before game five against the Bruins.
Videos posted by reporters on social media created a lot of good vibrations throughout Islanders Country, but the reality is that the next time we see the Islanders’ Captain in a game, it will be next season.
“He’s back skating,” said Trotz following the Islanders 5-4 win over the Bruins in game five. “He will not return in the playoffs. Unless we play into September, he’s not playing.”
So, that basically rules out a “Wills Reed” type moment for the Islanders reminiscent of when the Knicks’ Captain walked out onto the court at Madison Square Garden before game seven of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Lakers. The injured Reed hit his first two shot attempts for his only points of the game, but his presence sparked the Knicks to a win and their first NBA World Championship.
Lee is hoping to duplicate what injured Tampa Bay Lightning Captain Steven Stamkos did last season and that was skate out onto the ice in uniform to accept and hoist the Stanley Cup. But, for now, Lee will continue to be around the Islanders and show support for his teammates and coaches.
“He’s been out for a while but he’s still our Captain,” said Islanders forward Jordan Eberle. “He’s a big part of this team in the locker room and his voice resonates. To have him here, it’s just so good…the morale of the group and having him around seeing him around it makes it a lot better.”
Without Lee, the Islanders were able to make the playoffs and are now just one win away from getting to the NHL’s final four for the second straight season. He still has a lot of work to do in terms of his rehab and returning to the Islanders next season, but for the moment he is doing everything he can to help the team off the ice.
“You see how he’s putting in the work, how he’s supporting the guys and he’s around,” said Trotz. “A really good influence on the whole group and that’s what leadership is. It’s really encouraging. He’s putting in the work but he has a long road. He had a very tragic injury and a very serious one so he’s going to put some long hard hours in all summer.”
Those long hard hours for Anders Lee might be a little easier if the Islanders are able to win the Stanley Cup, but however the season turns out, all of that hard work will certainly pay off when he is able to finally rejoin his teammates on the ice for training camp and ultimately for the start of next season when the Islanders move into their new home UBS Arena at Belmont Park. Seeing Lee on the ice Monday morning had to be inspiring for the Islanders players who have the utmost respect for him as a player, a Captain, and as a human being.
It was an indication that we are getting closer to seeing number 27 getting back to his office in the dirty areas in front of the goal and helping the Islanders win hockey games.