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Look Back: How Anders Lee Became Captain, Building a Legacy

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New York Islanders captain Anders Lee
New York Islanders captain Anders Lee (Photo-via New York Islanders Twitter)

With Jacob Trouba being named captain of the New York Rangers on Tuesday, let’s look back at how Anders Lee became captain of the New York Islanders.

It was the offseason of 2018.

Lou Lamoriello had just been hired as president of the New York Islanders after a three-year stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He quickly cleaned house, demoting general manager Garth Snow and taking his role, while also relieving Doug Weight and the rest of the coaching staff of their duties. 

The New York Islanders were on the brink of losing franchise player and captain John Tavares, and in a final effort to keep the former first overall pick on the island, Lamoriello hired 2018 Stanley Cup-winning head coach Barry Trotz.

But Tavares left and joined his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs and the Islanders now needed a new captain to help lead a new-look Islanders club.

Upon arriving on the island, Barry Trotz called up all of his players. 

“You know when I first got here, I didn’t know very many of the Islander players at all, other than coaching against them,” Barry Trotz said. “And I called every one of them when I got here. You know, try to get a little bit of background on each player.”

“And I usually finished with one of my last questions, if you had a had to have a captain because John Tavares was the captain of the Islanders for so many years, who would your vote be?”

The answer, Trotz said, was almost unanimous.

“And it was almost unanimous that Anders would be the guy so that tells you all you need to know as a coach or a fan or anybody in hockey that there’s a lot of respect there for the way he plays, the way he handles himself, and the way he takes care of himself.”

And on Oct. 4 of 2018, Anders Lee was named the 15th captain in franchise history.

“It’s extremely humbling and quite an honor,” Lee said in an interview that day (quote per NHL.com). “To be a captain of this organization and how long I’ve been here, spent here and how much it means to me, it’s definitely one of the most special things that’s happened in my hockey career and I’m looking forward to it.”

Under his leadership, the Islanders made the postseason three straight years before the hectic, chaotic 2021-22 season ended that streak.

Even during the shortened 2020-2021 season, when Lee was out of the lineup with a torn ACL, missing half the regular season and the entire playoff run, there was footage of him in the locker room doing what he could to get his teammates riled up.

Despite not getting to play in any games that season post-injury, Lee defied all odds by getting back on the ice just three months later.

For most humans, it takes around nine months for an ACL injury (varying) to heal. 

Lee wasn’t skating circles or going crazy, but the fact that he was back on the ice so quickly, was just an emphasis on how hard he works and how hard he cares. 

People watch,” Barry Trotz said. “You see him working every day, pushing himself to exhaustion, it has influence. If there was even a 0.00001 percent chance he could play in the playoffs, he was going to be ready for it. I really feel it sent a strong message to our team.”

And you know you are a good leader when a legend of the organization, like John Tonelli, speaks so highly of you.

On Feb. 21, 2020, John Tonelli had his no. 27 jersey sent to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum rafters. As one knows, that usually means that number is off-limits for future use.

But Anders Lee wore 27.

“I have spoken with current Islanders team captain Anders Lee,” Tonelli said during his speech. “And from seeing the tremendous leader he is, I told him that I would be honored if he continues to wear our number until the end of his career.”

I vaguely remember the camera frame catching Anders Lee during Tonelli’s speech and you could see that the moment and the words had Lee emotional.

During this past season, Anders Lee’s leadership was tested given the failures the season brought.

Lee never hid from the cameras, as he faced the media often and was usually faced with questions about effort as the losses piled up. He never threw anyone under the bus but wore his emotions on his sleeve.

He said what needed to be said. He kept the locker room talk confidential and quite frankly kept it real with the media. 

I shared a cool moment with Anders Lee after a tough loss to the Colorado Avalanche back on Mar. 4. 

After asking Lee what the positives were, he gave me a quick answer, “Varly’s [Varlamov] performance really” but before he walked out of the media room he tapped me on the shoulder and added, “The fact that we stuck with it too.”

That little gesture to elaborate after a painful loss spoke volumes about the kind of person and leader Anders Lee is.

Anders Lee is gearing up for his fifth year as the captain of the New York Islanders and given what he has shown over that time, on and off the ice, that “C” is likely to not leave his sweater until he hangs up the skates.

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