You can't spell Islanders without "Anders." Or can you?
Despite scoring 9 goals in 22 games last season, backed up with impressive possession numbers, the New York Islanders Opening Night lineup could be missing forward Anders Lee.
After Lee's performance in the final quarter of the 2013-14 season, it seemed as though the young forward was a good bet to be part of the Islanders roster in October. But the offseason additions of Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, and Cory Conacher has his inclusion on the Opening Night roster in jeopardy.
Crazy? Possibly. Definite? Not at all. But barring another move by Garth Snow, our #8 in the Isles Top 25 Under 25 looks like the player who will be on the outside looking in. The reasons:
If anyone tells you this isn't the main reason for keeping Lee off the roster, they're either lying or delusional. Lee is still 46 games shy of being eligible for waiver exposure, meaning Lee is the one forward not named Nelson or Strome that can be excluded from the roster without the threat of losing him.
Is it fair to Lee? No. Is it a move that will ice the best team for the Islanders? Probably not. But hockey is a business and losing an asset for nothing in return is always something a business is going to try and avoid.
Top 9 or Bust?
While the fourth line definitely could use an upgrade, it seems unlikely Anders Lee would be that guy. With Matt Martin still endeared to the Isles coaching staff, Cal Clutterbuck in the mix, and Eric Boulton needing to slot in for 20ish games to "enforce", it doesn't seem like there's a chance for Lee to force his way into a bottom 3 winger spot.
And even if there was, would playing on the fourth line be the best place for Lee? While he has shown an ability to get in on the forecheck, Lee's place on the ice is in front of the net. He needs to be on the ice with a playmaker or two to take full advantage of his skills, and the thought of him waiting for the puck from a Marzikabuck combination seems like a waste.
But while the fourth line is crowded, the third line may be even more crowded. Frans Nielsen seems like he'll be the third line center with the addition of Grabovski, and at the moment one would have to think Josh Bailey and Michael Grabner would be Nielsen's wings.
New addition Conacher also is more of a Top 9 guy than a fourth line guy. And even though Lee had a more impressive 2013-14 season, it comes back to the waivers factor, with Conacher already being claimed last year after being placed on waivers. Would Snow be willing to chance losing Conacher before he ever suits up for the Isles?
Small Sample Size?
We were all enamored with what Anders Lee brought to the table last year. But is that something he is going to be able to sustain over an 82 game season?
Islanders management may be thinking the same thing. Lee's shooting percentage with the Islanders was pretty high at 13.2%. A look at Lee through the years shows that the forward has always been a high percentage shooter:
|2009-10||Green Bay (USHL)||17.8%|
Despite the numbers, one would expect an eventual drop off in Lee's percentage. But based on how he has fared at different levels so far, maybe it won't be that significant.
Even if Lee does regress to the league average, which was around 9% for forwards last season, that still would be sufficient enough to have him in the lineup. If Lee had shot 9% last season it still would have put him on a pace for a 22 goal season.
The key with Lee is his ability to get shots on net. Lee averaged 2.98 shots per game with the Sound Tigers last year. He followed that up by averaging 3.09 shots per game on the Island.
To break it down even further, Lee averaged a shot every 4.99 minutes with the Islanders last year. So even if he sees third line minutes next season...well lets put it this way, he'll be putting the puck on net more than Josh Bailey.
But regardless of the stats, they key to Anders Lee's 2014-15 destination will most likely depend on Garth Snow's ability to trade one of the forwards currently sitting in front of him on the depth chart. I'm looking at you Bailey. I'm looking at you Grabner.
But that's a discussion for another day.