Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello announced on Wednesday that captain and first-line winger Anders Lee will miss the remainder of the 2021 regular season and playoffs with an ACL injury that will require surgery this week.
“We feel that he will be ready for next season,” Lamoriello said. “All indications are that — knowing the character and discipline of Anders — is that he will be so diligent that he will be ready for next season.”
It confirms the worst-case scenario for the Islanders, who placed Lee on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) last week after an awkward fall in the first period of Thursday’s win over the New Jersey Devils. The 30-year-old was leading the Islanders with 12 goals at the time of his injury.
In the interim, head coach Barry Trotz has recalled 22-year-old winger, Kieffer Bellows, from the taxi squad to slot in at Lee’s spot on the first line alongside Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle. He’s answered the call admirably with three goals in his first three games back.
But with Lee placed on LTIR, his $7 million cap hit is freed up for the Islanders to spend in a market they were otherwise ruled out of due to tight financial restrictions.
That offers the opportunity of acquiring a scoring winger that is a bit more proven to replace the goals lost with Lee’s absence.
“Whatever we can do to make ourselves better, we will be doing that,” Lamoriello said. “It changes our focus. You lose a player like that, the role that he plays — he’s our leading goal scorer… We will not do something for the sake of doing it.”
Some of the early candidates, however, are sizable goal-scoring names — most notably Taylor Hall of the Buffalo Sabres and Kyle Palmieri of the New Jersey Devils. Both of whom are on the last year of their contracts, making potential acquisitions a prominent rental for the stretch run.
“It would depend on the team that you’re dealing with and what they might want to take back and how you can work it,” Lamoriello said. “That would be the first focus, but it wouldn’t be the only focus.
“I think we’re always trying to find a scoring winger, whether it was because of Anders’ situation or not. But that’s not something that’s easy to do.”
The overarching question of acquiring another winger wouldn’t only be about production, though, as a new talent would be thrust into a close-knit locker room that has been together for the better part of three years.
“If we can add to this lineup that will not take away… you have to be very careful,” Lamoriello said. “Chemistry is just as important as anything.”
Chemistry and the willingness to adapt to Trotz’s system is one of the major reasons why the Islanders have catapulted in status in the Eastern Conference and currently lead their Eastern Division halfway through the 2021 season.
So if Lamoriello and the Islanders come up empty before the NHL’s April 12 trade deadline, it wouldn’t be the end all be all.
“I think what we have right now is balance throughout the lineup,” Lamoriello said. “Certainly, the young players who’ve come in have done an exceptional job. They’ve worked very hard and were ready when the opportunity came.”