Anders Lee, the captain of the Islanders, will miss the rest of the 2021 season with a knee injury, team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said on Wednesday.
Lee, 30, injured his right knee during last Thursday’s home win over the Devils, when he became entangled with Devils forward Pavel Zacha. Lee is tied with Brock Nelson for a team with 12 goals on the play-off Islanders (19-7-4). Lamoriello expected Lee to be ready for next season after his recovery.
“It’s an ACL and that’s how far I go,” Lamoriello told a video news conference. “Doctors are very comfortable with 100 percent recovery due to the type of injury he sustained.”
He added: “It will not be as severe as many ACL injuries because nothing else has been damaged.”
Prior to the injury, endurance was a hallmark of Lee, who in July 2019 signed a seven-year, $ 49 million contract with the islanders. He was playing in his 295th consecutive game when he was injured. Lee, who was drafted by the islanders in the sixth round in 2009, has 184 career goals in 520 games.
The absence of Lee creates a dilemma for Lamoriello, who must decide whether to trade for a temporary replacement or stand with the current squad, whose 42 points equals the leading Washington Capitals in the Eastern Division with 26 matches in the regular season. The Islanders have had a 9-1 record in their last ten games and have been particularly strong at the Nassau Coliseum during the season. They held a 12-0-2 record there on Thursday and Saturday against Philadelphia.
With Lee on long-term injured reserve, the Islanders will have some flexibility for the salary constraint for the rest of the season, giving them a chance to get a forward like Buffalo’s Taylor Hall or the Devils’ Kyle Palmieri, who will become an unlimited free agent after the season.
“It definitely changes our focus,” Lamoriello said. ‘You lose such a player, the role he plays – our leading scorer up to and including his injury. If we can improve ourselves, we will do it. But we will not do something just to do it. ”
Lee brings a fierce presence into the series, and is not afraid to place himself in front of an opponent’s net to shield the goalkeeper and take the physical punishment that comes from it. He thrived on a line with wing Jordan Eberle and center Mathew Barzal.
In Lee’s absence, Island coach Barry Trotz has put 22-year-old wing Kieffer Bellows in Lee’s place. Bellows, drafted by the islanders in the first round in 2016, also has a robust playing style and scored three goals in two wins over the Devils last weekend.
Lee’s quiet leadership has been favored by the Islanders, who have made the playoffs under Trotz the past two seasons and are apparently ready to play their third consecutive national season, but this time without their captain. Lee also missed the team’s playoff game in 2016 when he suffered a broken left fibula in a game against the Rangers late last season.
Lee earned the respect of Islander teammates and alumni through his play and organization of charity events. When the Islanders last year saw four-time Stanley Cup winner John Tonelli’s no. 27 retired, Tonelli pointed out that he praised Lee, who is still the no. 27 wear with the approval of Tonelli.
“I consider 27 to be our number,” Tonelli said at the time. “It’s not just mine.”
As the islanders move forward without Lee, Lamoriello maintains confidence in his players, who reached the final conference last summer.
“We are not asking anyone to do anything else, just to maximize their talents,” he said. ‘Together, this is how you achieve success. I have said this day and throughout the career individual players will help you win matches but teams will win championships. All teams go through these types of obstacles. You just have to overcome them. ”