The New York Islanders announced on Friday morning that their captain, Anders Lee, will be out indefinitely with a lower-body injury.
The Islanders captain took an ugly spill after getting tied up with New Jersey Devils forward Pavel Zacha in Thursday night’s 5-3 victory. New York is in first place in the juggernaut MassMutual East Division, and losing their leading goal-scorer is a huge blow. How will they fill the void?
The NHL trade deadline is exactly a month away on April 12. What comes next is only possible if Lee ends up on the long-term injured reserve, which would clear enough cap space for general manager Lou Lamoriello to acquire a forward to fill in.
Taylor Hall has been in the Islanders’ rumor mill since Jordan Eberle was acquired in 2017. The Buffalo Sabres are dead last in the division and the NHL. Despite speculation that Hall is interested in extending with Buffalo, the Sabres might want to get some assets for him that could help build a better future.
Hall’s contract expires after this season, and although he’s not exactly lighting it up in Buffalo, he’s still a top-line talent who can put the puck in the back of the net. Hall’s appeal has many levels. Both teams are in the East Division, which means that if the Isles can acquire him, there is no quarantine period before he can join the team.
“If the Islanders could somehow get the Sabres to take [defenseman Thomas] Hickey along with a first- or second-round pick (or two seconds), they’d be able to replace their top wing with the top wing available,” noted The Athletic’s Arthur Staple (from ‘What Anders Lee’s injury means for the Islanders at the trade deadline: Targets, cap space and more’ – The Athletic – 03/12/2021).
Hall has also only scored twice this season, with 16 points in 25 games. Those aren’t great numbers, which could cut his cost, especially on an expiring contract. Finally, he has chemistry with Eberle. They played together on the Edmonton Oilers, and they’re best friends. A first-line with Hall, Mat Barzal, and Eberle would re-establish the Islanders’ the top-line threat they had before Lee’s injury.
For Hall, the Islanders should expect to move one of, or both, their second-round picks acquired when Devon Toews was traded to the Colorado Avalanche. As for cap complications, they should worry about those later. The team was good enough to compete for the Stanley Cup this season, and Hall helps keep those hopes alive.
Kyle Palmieri is another name that makes sense. Similar to Hall, Palmieri is on an expiring contract and plays in the same division, so again, no quarantine. He is on a Devils squad that’s had their share of struggles this season. In 22 games, Palmieri has just four goals and 10 points.
He’s had multiple 25-plus goal seasons, including one 30-goal season. He has a heavy shot and knows how to score. Palmieri would likely cost less than Hall while giving the Islanders a similar chance to maintain their success this season.
Other names that come to mind who can play top-line minutes in Lee’s absence are Filip Forsberg and Rikard Rakell. However, neither player is on an expiring contract which would drive up the cost, and they would need a quarantine period to join the Islanders. In that case, it’s unlikely a move for either player happens now. They’re more suited to an offseason deal.
The Islanders have some in-house options if they can’t figure something out via the trade market.
Anthony Beauvillier has a history playing with Barzal and Eberle, and could slide in on the top line. He’s looked strong despite his low offensive production after returning from injury. He has the speed to keep pace and has shown the scoring ability in the past. He is the prime in-house option.
Oliver Wahlstrom has found his stride in the NHL, and he could see time on the first line. He’s the type of sniper that the Islanders have been craving, and he could see an uptick in production with an uptick in ice time.
Wahlstrom’s shot has been ready since he was drafted in 2018, and he’s proven he can bury pucks. He has obvious chemistry with J.G. Pageau, but there’s no denying that Barzal is an elite playmaker. The opportunity to play alongside that kind of talent could propel Wahlstrom’s confidence and goal-scoring ability and be a perfect mixture of offensive prowess.
If someone is moving up to the top line, then someone else will draw into the lineup. Michael Dal Colle continues to look strong and should keep his spot. That leaves Leo Komarov and Kieffer Bellows. Bellows was thrown into the lineup after weeks of being scratched. But after a bad game, hasn’t seen game-time since. The young forward could benefit from another look, this time on a line with Pageau and Dal Colle.
He’s had some defensive issues, but Pageau and Dal Colle are two of the better defenders in their own zone and could relieve Bellows’ play. That being said, Bellows can score when put in the right position, and he earned his way into the opening night lineup. He might benefit from playing with Pageau consistently.
Whatever happens, the Islanders will feel Lee’s absence for as long as he remains out. He is not just a leader on the score sheet but in the locker room, and this tight-knit group will miss their captain. In the meanwhile, someone or a few skaters will need to step up if New York wants to continue their success and their pursuit of the Stanley Cup.
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