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New York Islanders

The Anders Lee Question: Trade, Buyout, or Keep the Captain?

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Anders Lee is the captain of the New York Islanders and truly the heartbeat of the franchise. He made his NHL Debut in 2012-13 and became a regular in 2013-14. Lee is one of the longest-tenured players on the roster. He scored 20 every year since 2016-17, except when he tore his ACL during the 20-21 season.

Yet he’s being paid $7 million for two more seasons. His skating has gotten slower. His goal-scoring touch has dropped, scoring his lowest total goals since 2015-16. Lee could no longer keep up on line one or the top power-play unit. His ice time was the lowest in eight years.

The Anders Lee question is simple. Are the Islanders about to part ways with Anders Lee?

Moving Lee would be the most significant statement Team President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello could make about how he feels about the core and its current state. Lamoriello knows just how much Lee means not only to the team but also to its fans. Lee just won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy.

Lee has been a fan favorite since his breakout. Some people still haven’t forgiven Jack Capuano for healthy scratching Anders Lee for games 6 and 7 in 2015 against the Capitals. When John Tavares left for Toronto, everyone in the locker room turned to Anders Lee to become their new leader. The fanbase did, too. Lee was named captain and has undoubtedly been the most successful captain since Pat Flatley in the 1990s.

What About Pageau?

Yet, suddenly, there seems to be some doubt about his future. Lee’s contract has looked increasingly bloated as time has passed. It’s no secret that the Islanders need to shed money. The popular name in Islanders’ circles to be moved is Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Pageau, with two years left at $5 million, while the Islanders have plenty of center depth even without the versatile Pageau.

After yesterday, when Barclay Goodrow, an infinitely worse player in all facets of the game, was claimed for free by the San Jose Sharks, a Pageau move now feels inevitable. Pageau could be moved for free or even gain the Islanders a low draft pick. With respect to the writers who have lumped Pageau in with other buyout candidates, they’re wrong. Buying out Pageau defies logic. There’s a relative dearth of centers available in free agency, so even while his play may have regressed, he would get a big contract if he hit unrestricted free agency in 11 days.

Moving on from Lee would change everything. The Islanders would have significantly more cap room to add to the roster. It’s also worth noting that Lee’s full no-trade clause drops to a 15-team no-trade clause on July 1st. His actual salary dips to just over $10 million over the next two years, as opposed to the full $14 million. There are no signing bonuses, either.

The ability to move Lee seemed impossible yesterday, but now it seems possible. Teams are looking to make moves, as evidenced by yesterday’s Dubois-Kuemper swap between the Washington Capitals and the LA Kings. Winnipeg would surely want to avoid a complete rebuild. Could Anders Lee waive his NTC to go the other way for Ehlers as part of a package? It’s possible.

What About a Buyout?

The Islanders could also get bold and buy out Anders Lee. Buying out Lee this season would give the Islanders an additional $4.125 million to work with before the dead cap hit increases to $4.225 for 25-26, which may not work for the Islanders considering the raises that will be due for Noah Dobson, Alexander Romanov, and Brock Nelson. The cap will likely increase another 5%, so there may be space to afford the buyout.

The final two years of the dead hit would be $1.725, which is an extremely minimal amount of money toward the cap in those two years. Even so, the Islanders’ preference would undoubtedly be to move the total contract. To do so, it would likely cost the team their first-round pick this year or next year.

Lee still has game, but it’s a heavy contract. Maybe Chicago or San Jose would take him on for less than the first, seeing as their modus operandi has gone from a full-on tank to adding real NHL players regardless of salary cost.

Benefits of Moving On from Lee

The benefits of moving on from Lee could be huge. That $7 million cap hit can go right into free agency, where the Islanders can target players who can play anywhere in the top nine. We’ve already highlighted some targets here, but other great fits could include Viktor Arvidsson, Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi, and Jake DeBrusk.

Perhaps the Islanders can draw inspiration from what the Boston Celtics did in the NBA last offseason. After another disappointing postseason, the Celtics moved on from longtime fan favorite Marcus Smart and used him to acquire Kristaps Porzingis and then Jrue Holiday. The Celtics just won the NBA Title.

Sometimes, the business has to come first. As great as Anders Lee is and still can be, it’s hard for the Islanders to add substantially without moving on from Lee. There are undoubtedly ways to make it work with Lee. But at this point in time, there are more paths to succeed without him.