The decision has been made on Anders Lee, who will undergo ACL surgery this week and is out for the rest of the season. The New York Islanders captain got tangled with New Jersey Devils forward Pavel Zacha in a game last week and had to be helped off the ice.
It shouldn’t shock to find out that Lee is done for the year, but it certainly will spark some discussion on where the Islanders go from here. While Mathew Barzal might be the team’s most dynamic offensive player, there’s no question that Lee is New York’s most effective goal-scorer. His 12 tallies are still tied for the team lead even three games into his absence and he has a 40-goal campaign in his past. The 30-year-old was signed to a seven-year, $49MM deal in 2019 because of that goal-scoring, making him the most expensive player on the team at the time (his $7MM cap hit has since been matched by Barzal).
That cap hit is the news here though, as Lee was already placed on long-term injured reserve and without any risk of him returning this season, the Islanders can now use the added space for a deadline upgrade. New York was already well into LTIR thanks to Johnny Boychuk’s early retirement due to injury, meaning there is really no penalty for the team spending even more now that Lee is on the shelf. With more than $5.5MM in space, the Islanders could acquire quite an asset for their playoff run.
Immediately, the team will be linked to a player like Kyle Palmieri given GM Lou Lamoriello’s familiarity with him. In yesterday’s 31 Thoughts column by Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the insider mentioned that the New Jersey Devils have “begun conversations” about Palmieri’s future, implying that a trade could be coming. Friedman even lists the Islanders as a potential landing spot.
It won’t be just Palmieri though. Every rental forward on the market could be linked to the Islanders, especially after Lamoriello admitted to reporters including Arthur Staple of The Athletic that they were looking for scoring wingers even before Lee’s injury. Taylor Hall is still sitting in Buffalo as well, and the coach that drew him to the club in free agency was fired this morning. Other options with more term include Rickard Rakell, Zach Parise, and even perhaps someone like Jake Debrusk.
No matter what it does for the Islanders at the deadline, it’s hard to see Lee’s season end in this way. He is expected to be ready for the 2021-22 campaign.