Everyone is an Anders Lee fan, although it is getting a bit harder to realize that these days.
He's been a good, borderline great contributor to the New York Islanders organization for a decade and has shouldered the additional responsibility of being the team's captain since 2018-19. Last season, he scored 28 goals and had 22 assists, a 50-point season, while playing all 82 games.
It wasn't uncommon for fans to comment about how Lee had lost a step and looked slower last season. Many acknowledged this, but Lee's game was never built around speed. As long as he was able to park himself in front of the net, clean up rebounds and find loose pucks in the crease, he would still be a 20-goal scorer as he moves into his mid-30s.
However, this season, his lack of production, which was first categorized as a slow start, is now moving rapidly toward a dilemma that Lane Lambert can't ignore. Longtime Islanders beat-writer Arthur Staple wrote in The Athletic that it was time to bench the captain, citing how Lambert started healthy scratching Josh Bailey last season with regularity, unable to justify playing him over better internal options that were being more productive.
Although Bailey wasn't the team captain, he was the longest-tenured captain when the writing was firmly on the wall. And unlike Bailey who had one remaining year on his contract, Lee has three more after this season.
“It can be difficult, but all you gotta do is work through it,” Lee told the New York Post before theIslanders lost 4-1 to Washington last Saturday. “Stay positive. Played a lot of hockey and these things happen. It’s tough to start the season out this way. Feels even more impactful.”
He continues saying the right things, but that breakthrough hasn't come. He has just one goal and one assists through 15 games this season and hasn't found a permanent home on a line, bouncing back and forth between lines centered by Bo Horvat and JG Pageau.
Can Lee turn things around? Sure, but can Lambert afford to give him even more time to figure out? That's increasingly becoming an uncertainty.