The Islanders’ previous captain was one of the best players in the world, the star around whom an otherwise low-wattage franchise revolved.
Now the two most famous Islanders are their general manager, Lou Lamoriello, their coach, Barry Trotz, and their captain . . . well, he is not John Tavares.
But Anders Lee has been a neat fit for a team of equals, a steady presence off-ice whose on-ice style is akin to that of a low-post center. (Mathew Barzal is the flashy point guard, if we’re doing basketball analogies.)
“He’s just been himself,’’ Matt Martin said. “He’s always had that leadership quality. He goes about his business, obviously a guy that’s well-liked in the room. He’s got some jokes and things like that, but when he’s on the ice, he’s all business . . . he sets a great example on and off the ice. He’s been a great leader, and hopefully he will be for a long time.”
About that: Lee, who turns 29 in July and is earning $5 million this season, is an unrestricted free agent-to-be. So there was some risk in awarding him the “C,” because if he does not re-sign, the Islanders will lose captains in back-to-back years.
But Trotz heard and saw what he needed last summer. He said he spoke to every player and asked a number of questions, including this: “If there was one person you would trust, who would that be, and who would you go to? . . . Anders’ name came up a number of times. I just watched during training camp: Who takes care of himself? Who does things the right way? Who cares about the group?
“Being the captain is caring about everyone else first, and Anders has that in his DNA, which is really good.”
Trotz’s previous captain was Alex Ovechkin, and the two won a Stanley Cup with the Capitals last June. Now the Caps are the Islanders’ potential opponent in the second playoff round; they lead the Hurricanes 3-2 entering Game 6 on Monday night.
Ovechkin led the Capitals with 51 goals this regular season and is a Hall of Fame lock. Lee led the Islanders with 28, down from 40 last season, thanks in part to his buy-in to Trotz’s defense-first mantra. He would settle for lifting the Cup and securing a place in Islanders lore.
Lee, who is from Edina, Minnesota, was drafted 151st overall in 2009 by the Islanders, for whom he made his debut on April 2, 2013. (Only two Americans have captained a Cup winner, Derian Hatcher and Dustin Brown, who did it twice.)
“He’s done an unbelievable job,” Casey Cizikas said of Lee’s captaincy. “When the coaching staff announced it, it just made sense. Everything he does for the community, everything he does for Long Island, what he does for the guys in this room, is incredible. And it goes a long way. He’s our captain for a reason.”
A question to Lee about his role produced a paragraph-long quote out of Lamoriello 101 about no one man standing above the rest. “We’re all equal,” he said. “We’re all working together and there’s nothing that sets anyone apart.”
Beyond that, Lee said he has tried not to change anything about himself. “A big part of is being true to yourself and being who you are,” he said. “There’s no need to change anything, because you got there being the person you are.”
One thing that comes with being captain is greater media responsibilities as the players’ public face. Lee said he has not minded that.
“For sure, a little more lights,” he said. “But our rough patches this year haven’t been too difficult, and the adversity we’ve faced, we handled really well as a team. If you have to answer a couple of extra tough questions here and there, it’s all good.”
The Islanders are 4-0 in the playoffs, so it’s all good. But the questions figure to get tougher from here.