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Extension Talk: The Case For - And Against - Anders Lee

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The first in a series of pieces on who the Islanders should keep...and who they shouldn’t.

Toronto Maple Leafs v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It may seem like a weird time to write this type of article, given that the NHL is about three weeks from the beginning of their postseason. Especially since it will be one of which the Islanders, short of a total catastrophe, will be featured in.

But this is Lou Lamoriello’s world, and within it, news could come out of left field at any time.

As such, this will be the first in a series of weekly pieces going over all most of the Islanders’ pending restricted and unrestricted free agents. There’s a case to be made to keep - or lose - each one of them. The plan will be to talk through the pros and cons of each players’ situation and ultimately come to some opinion on how the Islanders should proceed at the end of the article.

With that said, let’s start right at the top with the captain, Anders Lee.

The Case For Anders Lee

The 28-year old 2009 sixth-round pick is coming off a team-friendly four-year extension where he’s scored 116 goals in 315 games (and counting), which is tied for 16th in the league. There’s nothing overly dynamic about Lee’s game per se. He’s a player that relies on high end hockey sense and elite-level hands to score goals, using his body to create high danger opportunities.

Data as of March 19, 2019

In fact, heading into Tuesday’s games, Lee is seventh in the NHL in individual high danger chances created with 85. Moreover, 42% of Lee’s total attempts are high danger chances - and an astounding 73.8% of Lee’s attempts are considered scoring chances. Certainly this is a player that has bought into Islanders’ coach Barry Trotz’s philosophy of generating high quality chances.

Data as of March 19, 2019

Of course, getting chances is one aspect of the game, but doing so in a way where the other team is not getting chances is another. Lee does a good job here, as well, ranking 46th in the league (min. 700 minutes played) in high danger chance share (56.65%). His 51.73% scoring chance share is more modest, but still better than league average. And relative to the Islanders, Lee fares well, as his shot share across the board is positive relative to his teammates.

Still, this is a player that is going to command a lot of term and a lot of dollars. And ultimately, the most important facet of the game tied to cap dollars is actual goal and point production. The results, once again, show Lee in a positive light.

As mentioned, Lee is in the top 20 among goal scorers over the last four years. Not only that, a whopping 87% of Lee’s points this season are primary points (goals + first assists). He also ranks second behind linemate Mathew Barzal in average game score this season, to boot.

The last consideration factor is more intangible in nature (off-brand for me, I know). However, there is something to be said for the fact that Lee is the captain of the team. Of course, he’s performing in that role after getting handpicked by this new regime to take over the role in an almost impossible situation after former captain John Tavares spurned the franchise in July. The results have obviously been quite positive from both a team perspective and an individual perspective.

Is it fair to say Lee’s captaincy has directly led to the Islanders leading their division on March 19? No. But at the same time, it’s hard to ignore the context of the situation: the way he and his teammates have bought into the coaching staff’s message, and the results that have followed. Plus. losing a second captain in two years seems pretty undesirable, and has to be part of the consideration set going forward.

The Case Against Anders Lee

There’s nothing really alarming about Lee’s game that would scream decline, at the moment.

At the moment.

Decisions like this can be difficult. You have a player that will be 29 years old when next season starts that will likely need to be signed for at least six years, if not more. When you look at NHL aging curves, that presents a picture that is concerning.

Source: www.hockey-graphs.com

Anders Lee is not a player that relies on speed. But he does rely on efficient routes, body strength, and hand-eye coordination to be as effective as he is. Will all of those things be at the same level in 2025 as they are right now? It’s hard to argue that they will be. These are the types of things the Islanders must consider when they discuss re-signing a player like Lee.

Truth be told, it’s a bit unfair. Lee’s production and shot generation metrics are really good, and to play the role of “ageist” is - at best - pretty harsh. At the same time, there simply has to be an admission that Anders Lee could be the second coming of Andrew Ladd in a few seasons, which would create more unwanted salary cap bloat, potentially even heading into an inaugural season of a new arena (where the Islanders surely will want to have a good team on the ice).

That’s not to say Lee’s age and skating ability should be the decisive factors here either, but they do need to be considered when discussing a long-term contract.

The Verdict

Over the last four seasons, the Islanders have lost Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, John Tavares, and Calvin de Haan (among others) to free agency. The team has not been able — or has not wanted — to keep any of their core free agents on the team other than Josh Bailey since the “Great Rebuild of 2008” began. One would think the Isles’ inability to keep players long term is some part of their perception problem that’s persisted even in recent years.

When you combine the above, Lee’s importance to the franchise given his role as captain along with his stable production, this seems like a calculated risk to take.

Plus, if there’s one thing it pays to be good at in the NHL, it’s scoring goals. Perhaps, literally. Anders Lee does a whole lot of that, and that’s one of the biggest reasons the Islanders should look to re-sign him.

The term and the money, of course, will be between Lamoriello and Neil Sheehy (Lee’s agent), but this is one area where the Islanders could use some long-term continuity.