Anders Lee can comfort with a smile and his typically happy personality projects an everything-will-be-OK vibe.
So, it’s very easy to believe the Islanders captain when he conveys a stress-free outlook to his on-going negotiations with the organization regarding a contract extension.
The 28-year-old Lee is in the final season of a four-year, $15-million deal and is in line to have his $3.75-million salary cap figure possibly doubled, or more. An extension can be signed starting Tuesday but the NHL trade deadline is Feb. 25, a relatively small window to determine Lee’s future with the organization that drafted him 152nd overall in 2009.
But Lee just smiled when asked about the subject.
“Things are good,” Lee said.
Pressed further for any sort of update on talks with the Islanders and president/general manager Lou Lamoriello and Lee said, “We’re not at a point right now where things need to be said either way. The conversations have been good and I’m looking forward to continuing those and we’ll go from there.”
Yet the seriousness of this matter from an Islanders’ standpoint belies Lee’s smiles. One way or the other, he will get a rich contract, especially after reaching 40 goals last season for the first time.
No, it’s the Islanders who must be careful.
For all Lamoriello and new coach Barry Trotz have done so far to point the organization back in the right direction, watching a second straight captain walk out the door for nothing after John Tavares signed a seven-year, $77-million deal with his hometown Maple Leafs would put a major dent in the credibility the new management team is trying to build.
The Islanders can’t go past the trade deadline – again – based on some good-faith feeling that the captain will ultimately re-sign as they did with Tavares. To be clear, Lee has never indicated anything other than he is incredibly happy being an Islander and his being named the new captain seemed to imply the organization understood the importance of re-signing him.
Tavares quickly reached out to congratulate his successor.
“It’s extremely well deserved,” Tavares said in a recent telephone conversation with Newsday. “But part of the reason he was named captain was because he understands what that means. He was a great linemate and a great teammate for a long time. I think you can see it with a lot of the charities he’s getting done. He’s selfless. I knew it would be a great fit.”
With Lee as captain, the Islanders reached the three-day Christmas break at 18-13-4, nearly an identical record to last season’s 19-13-4.
But Lee said this season feels different.
“Yeah, it does,” Lee said. “We’re still growing. We haven’t reached our full potential at all. We’re still building on each game and what we’ve learned, whether through a loss or a win. It’s just that feeling in the room that we’re really looking forward to the rest of the year the way things are going. There is a different feeling here and that just comes with all the changes made and the way Barry and Lou have taken over.”
Lee’s leadership has been a big part as well and there seems to be smiles on both sides regarding his future with the Islanders.
Now, the deal just needs to get done.
Definition of identity
Fourth-line center Casey Cizikas set a career high by scoring his 10th goal in Friday’s 6-3 win over the Senators at Barclays Center. It was the team’s 36th game and the 29th that Cizikas has played. He needed 69 of the 70 games he played in 2014-15 to set his previous mark of nine goals.
Cizikas, known more for his grinding style and penalty killing, demurred when asked earlier this month whether his offensive game was overlooked.
“I don’t know,” Cizikas said. “My theory is I’m just going to go out there and compete and whatever happens, happens. I’m going to try to make plays but I’m not going to force things.”
But Trotz was more definitive.
He appreciated Cizikas’ game as an opposing coach. Now, he finds Cizikas invaluable.
“You’ve got to love Casey,” Trotz said. “You talk about Islanders identity, just put his picture right in there under Islanders identity. He plays hard and he gets better and better every year. He doesn’t get enough recognition from people around (the league) that he can actually make plays. He’ll just hound you and make things difficult for you. He’s done that. But he’s done more than that for us. He’s one of the foundational players you have that sets the tone.”
Alex Ovechkin (Capitals/Metropolitan), Auston Matthews (Maple Leafs/Atlantic), Nathan MacKinnon (Avalanche/Central) and Connor McDavid (Oilers/Pacific) had been voted by fans as the captains for the NHL All-Star Game, Jan. 26 in San Jose. The rest of the four divisional squads for the three-on-three play will be selected by the NHL Hockey Operations Department. Here are the All-Star appearances by the current Islanders:
1 – Josh Bailey (2018)
1 – Leo Komarov (2016)
1 – Jordan Eberle (2012)