Isles may lose captain for second straight year
Lee and Lamoriello still reportedly at impasse regarding new contract
The Islanders re-signed free agent forward Brock Nelson to a six-year, reported $36 million contract to remain with the team on Long Island and in Downtown Brooklyn last Thursday.
“This is the only place I’ve been, it’s been great for my family,” Nelson said after inking the deal, just three weeks removed from scoring four goals during the Islanders’ two-round run through the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Nelson amassed a career-best 53 points (25 goals and 28 assists) this past season, tacking on a pair of game-winning tallies in the Isles’ stunning first-round ouster of Pittsburgh in the opening round before they were swept away by Carolina in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
He credited the coaching of Barry Trotz and the organizational stewardship of team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello for his continued development in the New York system, the only one he has known since the team selected him in the first round of the 2010 NHL Draft.
“Obviously the way the team is headed, it’s going in the right direction and Lou is committed to winning now,” Nelson noted.
“Everyone is on the same page and has that same goal in mind. We came upon six years and everyone is happy and excited for the future.”
These are the words Lamoriello and company were hoping to hear from former New York team captain John Tavares last summer.
The face of the franchise for the first nine years of his future Hall of Fame career, Tavares opted to accept a seven-year pact to play for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs a summer ago.
Oddly enough, the Isles are once again concerned with whether they can keep their current captain, Anders Lee, as the NHL Draft and free agency loom on the horizon.
Lee, who saw his offensive numbers take a precipitous dip in Trotz’s defense-first style in 2018-19, has scored 102 goals over the past three seasons with the Brooklyn/Long Island-based franchise, ranking 13th among all NHL players during that span.
While Lamoriello has cited his interest in keeping Lee here for the foreseeable future, and Lee has countered by making his intentions to remain an Islander clear, the sides have yet to agree to on a contract.
Several news outlets have reported that Lee and his agent, Neil Sheehy, are seeking a seven-year deal while Lamoriello is hoping to bring the captain back on a five-year contract.
That leaves Lee hanging with a little over a month to go before the 28-year-old Minnesota native can be eligible for unrestricted free agency, much the way Tavares kept the Isles and their fans in limbo before donning the blue and white in Toronto.
“I think we have a wonderful foundation,” Lee told Newsday following the Isles’ season-ending exit interviews on Long Island three weeks ago.
“After all the things we’ve been through as an organization, it’s something we can really grow from and get better on and build off of. … People know how I feel about this place. Lou and Neil are going to figure that out.”
Or will they?
Lee scored a career-high 40 goals in 2017-18 before managing just 28 in Trotz’s first year at the helm. He also collected just one goal and three assists during the Isles’ eight playoff contests and was limited to a single assist during the team’s sweep at the hands of the Hurricanes.
Despite the drop off in production and lack of postseason impact, Lee is still unquestionably the Isles’ locker-room leader.
“You would and could not find a finer captain,” Lamoriello gushed when asked about Lee earlier this month.
“He did a tremendous job and as I’ve said all along, we’re going to do everything we possibly can to keep him.”
Everything, apparently, except giving Lee and his agent the deal they are hoping for.
With former Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal emerging as the team’s most indispensable player and free-agent goaltender Robin Lehner, a Vezina Trophy finalist, up for free agency as well, Lamoriello may be willing to see the type of offers Lee gets on the open market in July before trying to lure him back.
That would put Barzal, entering his third NHL season, or perhaps even Nelson, up for the captaincy next year.
Unless, of course, the two sides come to an agreement that would keep Lee here as the team transitions into its new arena in Belmont, N.Y., which is slated to open in time for the 2021-22 campaign, if and when they actually start constructing it adjacent to the legendary Belmont Racetrack.
Until then, much as it was a summer ago, the Isles and their captain will continue to play a game of wait-and-see.
ISLE HAVE ANOTHER: The team announced last week that Casey Cizikas was named the Isles’ Bob Nystrom Award winner for the second straight season. The honor, bestowed upon the player who best exemplifies “leadership, hustle and dedication”, was well-deserved by the 28-year-old center, who racked up a career-best 33 points in 2018-19. A key member of New York’s “Identity Line”, alongside fellow veterans Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, Cizikas scored a team-high two short-handed goals this past season as he was also a mainstay on Trotz’s penalty killing unit.
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