The Islanders will be without ironman captain Anders Lee for an extended period, and that most certainly will alter president and general manager Lou Lamoriello’s plans heading toward the April 12 trade deadline.
The team announced on Friday that Lee, the Islanders’ leading goal-scorer and top-line left wing, will be out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. If he eventually is placed on long-term injured reserve, Lamoriello would have the salary-cap space to make a major acquisition. As of Friday, the Islanders had no cap space.
Lee, playing in his 295th straight game, the eighth-longest active streak in the NHL and the third-longest in Islanders history, exited Thursday night’s 5-3 win over the Devils at Nassau Coliseum at 12:55 of the first period after Pavel Zacha fell over his extended right leg as he drove toward the Islanders’ net.
Lee let out a yelp of pain heard over the 1,000 fans at the Coliseum and could not put weight on his right leg as he tried to crawl off the ice.
His absence certainly leaves a huge hole in the lineup; his line with Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle is the Islanders’ most productive. He also must be replaced on the first power-play unit. Lee is tied for second on the team with three man-advantage goals.
Lee, 30, is in the second season of a seven-year, $49 million deal, and the Islanders could further exceed the $81.5 million salary-cap ceiling by Lee’s $7 million cap hit if he is placed on LTIR. They already are using Johnny Boychuk’s $6 million cap hit in that manner, with the defenseman in de facto retirement because of an eye injury.
Added cap room would allow the Islanders to afford former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall, an impending unrestricted free agent with an $8 million cap hit, if the Sabres also would take back defenseman Thomas Hickey ($2.5 million) or Leo Komarov ($3 million) along with a package of prospects and draft picks. The Devils’ Kyle Palmieri ($4.65 million), an impending UFA who is from Smithtown, is more affordable.
Lamoriello, who likely was focused on acquiring defense depth before Lee’s injury, could pursue the Predators’ Filip Forsberg, whose six-year, $36 million deal runs through next season.
In-house, Lee’s injury could bring an increased role for rookie Oliver Wahlstrom (four goals, five assists) or mean that Andrew Ladd ($5.5 million) becomes an option again.
Lee, who has 12 goals and is second on the team with 19 points, has not missed a game since a 4-2 win over the Blue Jackets at Barclays Center on Jan. 24, 2017. That was the only game he missed that season.
The East Division-leading Islanders (17-6-4) will continue a three-game series against the Devils on Saturday night at Prudential Center on a seven-game winning streak and a 9-0-1 run.