Captain Anders Lee and goalie Robin Lehner spoke glowingly of the strides the Islanders made this season and the organization’s bright future overall as the team conducted its exit interviews on Monday in East Meadow.
But whether either impending unrestricted free agent returns is one of the biggest offseason questions for president and general manager Lou Lamoriello.
“We’re going to see how we can fit them all in,” Lamoriello said of the team’s UFAs, which includes right wing Jordan Eberle and centers Brock Nelson and Valtteri Filppula. “But we’d like them back, without question. They have to make decisions and we have to make decisions. But they’re all quality players and they’ve been an integral part of this organization.”
The Islanders were packing their bags for the summer after Friday night’s 5-2 loss at Carolina in Game 4 of their second-round series.
Lamoriello was hired last April and brought in Barry Trotz in June to coach after he led the Capitals to the Stanley Cup. The team finished in second place in the Metropolitan Division, 23 points better than last season and went from allowing an NHL-worst 293 goals to an NHL-low 196. Oh, and the team prospered after former captain John Tavares left via free agency for Toronto.
“I think we have a wonderful foundation,” Lee said. “After all the things we’ve been through as an organization, it’s something we can really grow from and get better on and build off of.”
Lee, who will be 29 on July 3, had 28 goals and 23 assists in 82 games — he set a career high with 40 goals in 2017-18 — in the last season of a four-year, $15 million deal.
Lehner went 25-13-5 with a 2.13 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage, setting career bests for victories and GAA and sharing the Jennings Trophy with Thomas Greiss on a one-year, $1.5 million deal. He is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie and the Masterton Trophy for dedication and perseverance after detailing his battles with addiction and mental health issues on the first day of training camp.
Lehner said Lamoriello and his agent, Craig Oster, have yet to begin negotiations.
“I guess they will touch base here in the near future and see what the team wants to do but there’s been no conversation as of yet,” Lehner said. “I think everyone knows where I stand. I obviously love this group. I really like my teammates, the organization. Everything.”
Still, Lehner said he didn’t know what to expect or where he might play next season. He just knew he was looking forward to this offseason because there will be fewer distractions.
“Last summer was different for me but this summer is going to be really good,” said Lehner, who went through rehab last offseason and joined the Islanders after three seasons with the Sabres. “I’ve been dealing with a lot of things over the course of my career. I haven’t had a good, calm summer to focus on myself and focus on the next season. There’s always been a bunch of issues. I’ll see where I’m going to end up, go there and start working out.”
Lehner, who will turn 28 in July, added he needs time to adjust his medications to lessen some of the side effects, find a full-time therapist and, physically, improve his conditioning and strength.
He expects to be a better goalie next season as a result.
“I’m really excited for next year that I can find the last piece of the puzzle and really find a good routine,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lee said his agent, Neil Sheehy, has had “lots of conversations” with Lamoriello.
“People know how I feel about this place,” Lee said. “Lou and Neil are going to figure that out.”