Anders Lee has worn the “C” on his sweater for the New York Islanders for a year and a half now, and in that time, there hasn’t been much pressure under his leadership.
That is until now.
The heat is on for the Isles to not miss the postseason after they made it last season and made an unexpected run to the second round. Right now, they sit in the first wild-card spot in the Metropolitan Division with two games in hand on the teams chasing them, the Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes. So missing the postseason is a very real possibility. And it’s that situation that really marks an important moment under Lee’s tenure.
“Whatever happens, this is our group and we’re all close and we want to go out there and make a successful run,” Lee told Newsday a few weeks ago.
The 29-year-old’s hard-working and determined mentality is why he was hand-picked by g.m. Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz to lead the Isles at the beginning of last season, where he took the reins after former captain, John Tavares, left for Toronto in the offseason. It’s also why this past offseason, he was signed to a brand new seven-year, $49 million contract to keep him and Islander into his late 30s. That was a big commitment for the organization — one who’s not used to handing out those types of deals — but one they recognized was crucial going forward for the foundation of the franchise because he represents everything it is to be an Islander.
“It’s extremely important,” Lamoriello said on the day of his signing. “He was our captain and still is our captain. We didn’t bring him back. He never left.”
This year, Lee has continued to lead despite only recording 16 goals and 29 points. Though it’s not as consistent as he and many of the fans would like, he’s still on pace for his fourth-straight 25-goal season. This is a good thing because of how offensively-challenged the Islanders are. But it’s even more vital for the sole reason that he should be the one player who could have the most impact the rest of the way.
— IslesBlog (@IslesBlog) January 19, 2020
As a captain, the guys behind you are expecting are looking at you to set the standard. Lee has done that. It’s been that way since he was named captain at his alma mater, Notre Dame, before the 2012 season. That’s where Lee’s leadership skills first began to flourish.
Even all these years later, he still has the ability to have the ear of the locker room and the respect of his teammates. Those qualities are going to be crucial as the Isles are already enduring their toughest stretch of the season — 33 games in 64 days. A schedule like that can bring a lot of fatigue to an entire team, and the bulk of it usually falls on its captain. Lee being the one who keeps grinding and pushing, could give the entire room a jolt and make the others around him elevate their game.
These next few months aren’t going to be the defining moment of Lee’s captaincy, but they could be important moving forward.
The Isles are not far away from being a Stanley Cup contender, and any step back could provide some unwelcome challenges for Lee. Failing to make the postseason would be a disappointment for the entire organization, but Lee could take the hardest hit, especially after the money he was awarded and faith instilled in him by management.
Some have argued Lee has turned into one of the best leaders in the league. Is he on a level with the Crosbys, Ovechkins, and McDavids? No. Not yet. But he’s not far off. This final portion of the season and propelling the Islanders to a second straight postseason can elevate his status toward that elite group.
The Isles are already having their metal tested these last two months of the year. But for Anders Lee, the grind ahead is his first real challenge as the team’s official leader. One that will tell a lot about him moving forward.
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