There is no doubt that the New York Islanders missed their captain Anders Lee in the second half of the regular season and the entirety of their postseason run last year. The 31-year old will be back in the lineup when the 2021-22 season begins after suffering a torn ACL on March 11 against the New Jersey Devils.
The Islanders are not just getting their captain back, but also their top left-winger and a net-front presence on the power play that was tough to replicate. Through trial and error, it became a fact that no one on the roster could fill the void that Lee left behind when his season came to a close.
Anders Lee had been off to a great start when his season was cut short by injury. With 12 goals through New York’s first 27 games, he was leading the Islanders offense. He was on pace for a 25 goal, 15 assist season, given the schedule only being 56 games.
In an 82-game season, that equates to 36 goals. That is 2017-18 production for Lee, the season that earned him his 7-year, $49 million contract.
Just as Lee was hot, so were the Islanders. Through those first 27 games, the Islanders owned a record of 17-6-4.
Despite staying somewhat hot in his absence, the season started to get away from the Islanders.
They finished the final 29 games going 15-11-3, as they went from a top team in the East Division to just squeaking into the playoffs. They finished the season with the 11th worst offense, having scored only 2.71 goals per game.
The defense for the Islanders was rather strong all season, which allowed the offense to come alive in big moments during the postseason. But a lack of offense was the main reason why the Islanders’ run in the playoffs came to an end in Game 7 against Tampa Bay.
It will be imperative for the Islanders this season that Lee stays healthy. The ACL tear in his left knee was the second significant injury of his NHL career.
He broke his right fibula back in April of 2016 due to friendly fire off the stick of defenseman Johnny Boychuk.
While Lee wears many hats for the organization, his return to the top line is of the utmost importance. Mathew Barzal, a creative, offensive weapon, failed to get much help in Lee’s absence.
Head coach Barry Trotz did what he could to keep his lineup as balanced as possible. In order to keep the other forward lines intact, Trotz opted to go with the defensive-minded veteran Leo Komarov alongside Barzal.
As expected, Barzal seemed to be on his own, as he had much more pressure on him to carry the offense with far less support. The production for Barzal with Lee in the lineup compared to when Lee was on the shelf was rather similar, which means that Barzal is consistent.
What was not consistent was his linemates.
Interesting #Isles facts as I do some research:— Stefen Rosner (@stefen_rosner) September 10, 2021
Barzal with Lee healthy 2021 (27):
-9 goals, 14 assists
-30 PIM (10 min misconduct included)
Barzal with Lee out (29):
-8 goals, 14 assists
Komarov was not an offensive threat and Jordan Eberle struggled to finish off the chances that Barzal had created, at a consistent rate. Because of this, Barzal found himself being covered even more by opposing teams.
Not only will Barzal and company benefit from Lee’s return in their five-on-five game, but their power play could also get a boost.
New York ranked 20th on the power play with an 18.8 percent success rate. For a team that ranked relatively low in offensive production (2.71 G/GP), the powerplay was a chance to make up for the lost offense. Trotz experimented with Martin in front of goal and then Palmieri upon acquisition, but nothing seemed to click.
Out of Lee’s 12 goals this past season, three came via the power play. He has a knack for parking himself right in front of the opposition’s netminder but also can be an option down-low behind the net. With Zach Parise, a power-play specialist in his own right, officially signing with the Islanders there is no reason that the power-play won’t be better this year.
Lee’s presence on the ice and on the bench throughout a game is an immeasurable asset for a team on the cusp of a Stanley Cup appearance after back-to-back trips to the semifinals.
Anders Lee brought consistency to a rather inconsistent lineup and if he can mimic his play in 2021-22, the Islanders’ entire lineup should benefit immensely.