After longtime captain John Tavares left the Islanders in free agency, a massive hole was left in the Islanders leadership group. Going captainless for a season was an option, but with Tavares gone, the Islanders needed an identity as they looked towards the 2018-19 season.
An identity was found when the hard-working, determined Anders Lee accepted the responsibility of becoming captain. This was a captaincy mocked by many fans of other teams, not understanding what Lee provided to the blue and orange. Fortunately, the decision to make Lee captain was a success and made Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello look like a genius.
Entering his first season as a captain, Lee helped transform a projected bottom-feeding team into a formidable playoff threat, convincing fans that the future isn’t coming in a decade, but in the coming months. We watched as the Islanders turned heads and made the playoffs. Getting over 100 points was astonishing, but the Islanders were still seen as the underdogs. Lee’s Islanders took the underdog status once more, sweeping Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins off their feet.
Personally, Anders Lee had a good season. Totalling 51 points, 28 of those being goals, Anders Lee kept up with his career average, not suffering a massive decline like many projected with the loss of his longtime linemate Tavares. Although, with Tavares gone, the Islanders offense declined as the electric high-flying offense of seasons past were no more.
Fortunately, Lee’s guidance and offensive skill, paired with head coach Barry Trotz’s stern, defensive mindset, allowed the Islanders offense to not be needed as much. A flourishing defense emerged, allowing the crippled offense to not be the face of the team. The team follows in Lee’s footsteps, and he is leading them well.
A risk was taken when Lee was made captain, as he was pending for free agency like his former linemate was in the previous year. Instead, after tedious negotiations, a shiny seven-year contract was signed. The contract wasn’t cheap, but it was important for the Islanders to show that they can lock up their star players long-term.
I don’t think it’s a surprise that once the mystery and worry around Tavares and his free agency decision were gone, that the team excelled. On the Islanders, Lee feels like a leader, while in his final year, it felt like Tavares was distancing himself as the season progressed.
Now, with stable leadership, the players have bought into Lee’s captaincy and respect him as a leader. Just like last year, the Islanders aren’t projected to make the playoffs, but with a hot-start and guidance by Anders Lee, it seems the Islanders are going to surprise again…
Making Lee one of the best captains in the National Hockey League.