The New York Islanders announced on Sunday that they have placed their captain and leading scorer, Anders Lee, on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), retroactive March 11.
Lee suffered the injury during the first period of Thursday’s win against the Devils when he fell awkwardly after a collision with New Jersey forward Pavel Zacha. He did not return to the game and a day later, the Islanders announced that he would be out indefinitely.
It’s a major blow for the top team in the Eastern Conference, which entered Sunday on an eight-game winning streak prior to a third-straight tilt against the Devils.
The 30-year-old left-winger was off to one of the best starts of his career, netting 12 goals with seven assists and a plus-11 rating in 27 games.
In Lee’s absence on Saturday, Islanders head coach Barry Trotz slotted in 22-year-old winger Kieffer Bellows into his spot on the first line, to which he scored a pair of goals.
But the Islanders’ decision to put Lee on LTIR does provide some clarity on the team’s expectations and moves going forward.
There is a better chance rather than not that Lee is done for at least the remainder of the regular season, which concludes on May 8. The possibility remains that he could suit up for the playoffs should the Islanders make it.
His $7 million cap hit is also put to the back burner this season, allowing the Islanders much more financial flexibility to potentially make a move before the NHL’s April 12 deadline to go out and make a move. According to CapFriendly.com, they had approximately $345,000 in space this season.
Adding Lee’s $7 million to the equation suddenly makes the Islanders a team to watch at the deadline.
If the team believes that Bellows or second-line winger Anthony Beauvillier can’t properly fulfill Lee’s spot on the first line for the remainder of the season and potentially into the playoffs, there are trade options out there for the Islanders to explore.
Most notably, Taylor Hall is languishing in Buffalo after a failed experiment to create a dynamic duo with himself and Jack Eichel. The Sabres are the worst team in hockey and Eichel is out for the foreseeable future. With Hall’s one-year deal expiring at the end of the season, Buffalo likely will be trying to move him for at least some sort of asset rather than have him walk in free agency this summer for nothing.
While Hall had an 82-game average of nearly 29 goals during his first 10 NHL seasons, he’s struggled mightily in Buffalo, scoring just two goals with 14 assists in 26 games. The hope would be that his production of old could resurface on a line with Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle.
The Islanders could be keeping tabs on the very same Devils they’ve been so familiar with over the last few days. Kyle Palmieri is at the end of his contract this season and has seen his name crop up on the trade market in recent years.
The 30-year-old has averaged 26 goals per season over the last five campaigns and has four goals with seven assists in 23 outings prior to Sunday’s game against the Islanders.