Anders Lee Injury Sparks Speculation About Islanders’ Trade

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NHL.com

On Thursday, March 11, Islanders Captain Anders Lee became entangled with New Jersey’s Pavel Zacha. Lee’s injury and the subsequent end ot his season has prompted speculation about General manager Lou Lamoriello’s choice for his replacement.

Carter LaCorte, Freelancer

Much of the 2021 NHL season has been a dream for the New York Islanders and their fans. But after winning nine consecutive games and sitting at the top of the National Hockey League for a short while, adversity seemed inevitable.

It came on Thursday, March 11, when Captain Anders Lee became entangled with New Jersey’s Pavel Zacha. As soon as the two were separated, Lee showed signs of injury. One week later, General Manager Lou Lamoriello announced that Lee had torn his ACL and that his season was over.

The Islanders have struggled to replace Lee on the top line alongside Mat Barzal and Jordan Eberle. While it is certainly challenging to replace his presence in front of the net, it is impossible to replace his leadership in the locker room. Determined to avoid disrupting his three other forward lines, Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz substituted Kieffer Bellows — a 2016 First Round pick who has been sitting on the team’s taxi squad for over a month. Bellows scored his first two goals of the season in his first game on the top line; he then scored the opener in the next game, which was also against the Devils. 

While Bellows has been impactful from the start, Lamoriello should consider other options. Bellows’ production is unsustainable, and he lacks the NHL experience needed to be a consistent first liner. Since the Islanders do not have an in-house option at the moment — unless recently imported Russian Anatolii Golyshev exceeds expectations — a trade for a winger before the April 12 trade deadline seems necessary.

The top two — and likely available — options are Buffalo’s Taylor Hall and New Jersey’s Kyle Palmier, both of whom have been shopped around by their struggling teams. Hall — a Hart Trophy winner (as Palmieri’s teammate on the Devils) — has scored just two goals in 29 games this year. He stands out, however, as a pending Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) on a team that has lost 13 games. While Hall’s $8 million cap hit for the rest of the season is hefty, the Islanders have placed Lee on Long-Term Injury Reserve (LTIR), alleviating his $7 million cap hit and enabling the team to snag a player with Hall’s contract. 

The passionate Islander fans will not rest until either Hall or Palmieri is in blue and orange. But after having traded their first round pick last year to Ottawa for Jean-Gabriel Pageau — and may need to give it up as part of an expansion draft considerations trade in the offseason — the team could hold onto their biggest trade chip at the deadline. So looking at smaller options is a better idea. 

Two players that fit the bill are pending UFAs Alex Iafallo and Mikael Granlund. Although Granlund scored only 11 points in 27 games for the lowly Predators last year, he scored 17 goals this year. Iafallo is interesting. At 27 years old, he is young to be entering free agency. He has 18 points in 27 games on the Kings’ top line, and he scored 17 goals last year. He may be inexpensive, with a potential price tag being a second or third round pick. Unlike Hall and Palmieri, Iafallo plays on a Western Conference team (Los Angeles) — an significant distinction, given that trading future considerations to a fellow Eastern team could easily come back to hurt the Isles. 

Whether Lamoriello goes big, goes small, or goes home and stays with the team he has, it will be an exciting trade deadline season. If he is interested in any player from the League’s seven Canadian teams, then he may strike a deal sooner rather than later due to the required 14-day quarantine required for travelers crossing the border between the U.S. and Canada. Regardless, Islanders fans will manage find something wrong with each possible outcome.