ANAHEIM, Calif. – Lou Lamoriello always argues for the use of time when it's available, and there's certainly no pressing deadline to reach a contract extension with captain Anders Lee.
But there seems little to be gained by waiting for the Feb. 25 trade deadline to force the issue or, gasp, the opening of the free-agent market on July 1. The Islanders, before Lamoriello assumed ironclad control as president and general manager, played that losing game last season with former captain John Tavares, though with enough blame to be spread on both sides.
In Lee the Islanders have a 28-year-old, 40-goal scorer who makes no ambiguity about his long-term commitment to the organization and whose line with fellow contract-seekers Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle easily has been the team’s best four games into the new season.
“I’ve come into this wanting to be here,” Lee told Newsday. “I know things are just going to have to work itself out. We do have a lot of things going on. My side of it will come, I’m sure. Right now, Lou’s got other things to do. As a team, we have other things to do. It’s so early. It’s obviously out there so we’re going to talk about it. But I don’t think there’s much to really talk about. I just would say things are fine, really.”
The Islanders, who face the Ducks on Wednesday night, did not practice on Monday after opening their four-game road trip with a 5-2 loss at Nashville on Saturday. Lamoriello’s pressing order of business on Monday was placing Stephen Gionta on waivers after he was signed off a professional tryout on Saturday. If Gionta clears, he’ll be eligible to be re-assigned to Bridgeport (AHL) once Casey Cizikas (lower-body) is activated off injured reserve, quite likely prior to Wednesday night’s game.
Lee has two goals and one assist after notching career highs with 40 goals and 62 points last season. Naming him Tavares’ successor as captain has seemingly added another level of confidence to his already assured play around the net and on the power play.
There’s no evidence the off-ice business would ever impact Lee’s on-ice performance, and it certainly didn’t for Tavares last season.
But the Islanders put the grown-ups in charge in Lamoriello and new coach Barry Trotz to bring stability to an organization that has, through each successive management team, looked rudderless since the early 1990s.
Re-signing Lee quickly would be another strong sign this organization is headed in the right direction. The Islanders can offer eight seasons, maybe a little long for a 28-year-old but that’s the price of doing business in the NHL. So is the $7 million annually Lee would likely command on the open market.
Trotz, coaching in the NHL since 1998, said he’s never had to deal with an in-season contract distraction.
“The only reason it comes up is it’s brought up usually by the media,” Trotz said. “In the room, guys don’t really bring it up and it’s not my business to bring it up. I don’t foresee it being an issue with anybody that we have right now. I know with Lee it won’t be, he’s a true pro.”
Lee did learn from watching Tavares last season.
“You just kind of observed that he was able to really compartmentalize it and was able to be exactly who Johnny was,” Lee said. “You could tell how focused he was on the task at hand. For me and my position, it’s doing what I can to be the best player I can be right now in helping our team win.”
The business side will take care of itself. But it would be much better for the Islanders if that’s sooner rather than later.
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