Any hope of Anders Lee making a return to the New York Islanders lineup this year was dashed on Wednesday morning by general manager Lou Lamoriello.
The team’s captain and leading goal scorer will undergo surgery this week to fix an ACL injury and will not return for the remainder of the season, Lamoriello said. That timeframe also includes Lee being ruled out for the postseason this year.
“The doctors are extremely comfortable with 100 percent recovery because of the type of injury that he has,” Lamoriello said. “It is an ACL and the rehab will not be as bad as a lot of ACL injuries are, because there is nothing else damaged other than the ACL.”
The Islanders are expecting Lee to be back at full strength in time for the 2021-22 season.
Anders Lee suffered the injury last Thursday against New Jersey when became tangled up with Pavel Zacha in the first period. Zacha fell over Lee’s leg awkwardly as the two fell to the ice and sent Lee grimacing in pain. Lee struggled to get up and was eventually helped off the ice by a team trainer.
News has trickled out steadily about Lee’s condition, first with the team saying he was out indefinitely and then them placing him on LTIR on Sunday. Anders Lee is currently tied for the team lead in goals with 12 through 27 games this season.
The news comes as the Islanders hit a crucial stretch of the season. They have held onto first in the East Division, but their schedule becomes significantly tougher with Philadelphia, Boston and Pittsburgh all in their immediate future.
And now the Islanders will need to find someone to fill the gap of a player that several teammates have described as the heartbeat of the team. However, Lamoriello expressed confidence that the team that they have can step up to the challenge that the current situation presents.
“I think what we have right now is we have balance throughout the lineup,” Lamoriello said. “And certainly the young players that have come in have done an exceptional job. They work very hard and they were ready when the opportunity came.”
An opportunity could come knocking for the Islanders via trade as well as they try to plug the hole left by the injury to Lee. The Islanders were already believed to be buyers as the NHL’s April 12 trade deadline approached.
That could be kicked into high gear now with Lee out.
With Lee on LTIR, the Islanders will be able to go over the $81.5 million salary cap by $7 million, which is Lee’s cap hit. The Islanders utilized this earlier in the year when they placed Johnny Boychuk on LTIR.
“There’s no question that we have cap room,” Lamoriello said. “Whatever we can do to make ourselves better, we will be doing that. 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.”