The New York Islanders are ever closer to losing their captain to free agency for the second consecutive year.
Talks between the team and captain Anders Lee’s agent, Neil Sheehy, reportedly continued during this weekend’s NHL Entry Draft — continuing a season-long dialogue — but with no deal announced it appeared the top-scoring left winger is poised to at least listen to possibilities from other teams.
The “listening period” for unrestricted free agents begins Sunday, when players can meet with other teams and discuss general terms but cannot exchange concrete offers nor sign agreements until July 1.
Newsday happened to have eyes on both coasts — in Vancouver for the draft, and in New York where Lee and Kevin Shattenkirk were hosting a charity event to benefit children with cancer.
Here’s Newsday’s Brian Heyman after talking to Lee:
Just spoke with UFA-to-be Anders Lee, can start talking to others teams tomorrow: “I never thought it would get to this point, but I guess it’s the nature of what this week means.” His 1st choice is to stay, hopes it works out. Said talks with #Isles still going. #Islanders #NHL— Brian Heyman (@bheyman99) June 22, 2019
Here’s TSN’s Pierre LeBrun and Newsday’s Andrew Gross from the draft floor in Vancouver:
Isles GM Lou Lamoriello and agent Neil Sheehy having a lengthy discussion on the stands right now. Presumably over pending UFA Anders Lee. The UFA speaking period when other teams can call opens Sunday.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 22, 2019
Lou Lamoriello back at the #Isles draft table after talking in the stands for a while with Anders Lee's agent Neil Sheehy.— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) June 22, 2019
In comments with the NHL official site, Lee sounded a little frustrated but re-signed to this part of the process:
“This was never an intention,” the left wing who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1 said Saturday. “There hasn’t been an agenda or anything like that. I guess that’s where we’re at. We’re right there, so it’s just part of the process, I guess.
”I didn’t think we’d get to this point. The process hasn’t … I haven’t enjoyed it, but it is what it is. We want to make sure that everything is done right and it’s right for both of us, for both sides. I hope it works out. They’re working on it right now.”
He also had a great line for Lamoriello, who always milks these windows:
“Lou said it best, ‘when you have time, use it,’”
Lee is coming off a four-year, $15 million deal signed as an RFA that averaged $3.75 million per year.
He’s in line for a big raise, but he is also a tricky case: He’s their beloved captain and leading scorer, and helps create high-danger scoring chances. He’s also 28, not a speedster, and plays a physical game. He is reportedly seeking a max term (eight years), but players of that profile do not always age well. Lee also got a later start to his earning years, playing a gap year in the USHL before playing three years at NCAA Notre Dame.
Reports have the Islanders understandably seeking shorter term — presumably seeking to avoid being stuck with a high-dollar declining player at the tail end of the contract. Meanwhile, the still-unannounced salary cap is not going up quite as much as initially expected, yet some free agents are increasing the going rate (as they do almost every summer).
This is a case of who will blink first, and who is prepared to go forward without the other.