The Islanders have glided through March as one of the NHL’s hottest teams, but Wednesday brought news of a significant setback on their hoped-for road to a Stanley Cup.
Anders Lee, the team’s captain, a key goal-scoring winger and a formidable physical presence, is done for the season after suffering a torn ACL against the Devils on March 11. He will undergo surgery to repair his right knee this week.
Team president Lou Lamoriello made the announcement in a video news conference, ending hope Lee might return for the playoffs even after the Islanders had put him on long term injured reserve on Sunday.
The only good news Lamoriello offered is that Lee did not suffer any other complications in his knee and that the team is confident he will recover in time for the start of next season.
"The doctors are extremely comfortable with 100% recovery, because of the type of injury that he has," Lamoriello said. "The rehab will not be as bad as a lot of ACL injuries are because there is nothing else damaged other than the ACL."
First, there is the matter of this season, in which the Islanders enter Wednesday’s games tied for the most points in the NHL with 42.
The trade deadline is April 12, and armed with $7 million in cap room from placing Lee on LTIR, Lamoriello will be looking to deal.
"It certainly changes our focus," he said. "You lose a player like that, the role he plays, he’s our leading goal-scorer [with 12], certainly until his injury.
"So if we can get ourselves better, we will. We will not do something just for the sake of doing it. But we’re now looking a little different."
Given the expectation Lee will be back and the fact the salary cap will be flat next season, picking up a short-term "rental" would make sense.
"That would be certainly the first focus, but that’s not the only focus," Lamoriello said.
But the dynamics of the trade market are an unknown, given the cap pressures many teams will face.
"You have to think beyond this year when you make a decision," Lamoriello said, "because the cap is going to be flat next year, so any contract you take on that is more than one year is going to disrupt whatever you’re doing next year and will put you in worse shape."
One possible addition that will not require a trade is Anatoly Golyshev, 26, a fourth-round draft pick of the Islanders in 2016 who on Tuesday had his KHL contract terminated.
The 5-7, 187-pounder spent eight seasons in the KHL and had 109 goals and 220 points in 403 games.
Lamoriello said Golyshev wants to play in the NHL and that the Islanders will speak to him now that he is free contractually.
The Islanders had been on a 12-game point streak before losing to the Capitals on Tuesday. Lamoriello said he likes his team as it is and will be "very careful" not to disrupt its chemistry by adding new players.
No matter what he does, he will be unable to replace what has been lost.
"He’s our captain," Lamoriello said of Lee. "He’s our leader, on and off the ice. He’s the voice of the players with the coaches and management. We have tremendous confidence in the players in this locker room. We have tremendous confidence in the leadership. But you don’t replace Anders."
Lee, in the second year of a seven-year, $49 million contract, is one of the league’s most durable ironmen. He played in 295 consecutive game before getting hurt when the Devils’ Pavel Zacha fell over his extended right leg in the first period of a game at Nassau Coliseum.
"All teams go through these types of obstacles, and you just have to overcome it," Lamoriello said. "You can’t feel sorry for yourself. You just have to look forward."
Notes & quotes: Defenseman Noah Dobson remained on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list on Wednesday, the only Islander on the list.