Anders Lee said he expects to be ready for training camp with the New York Islanders next season, but there may be some changes when it gets underway in September.
Lee, the Islanders captain, missed the final two months of the regular season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs due a knee injury sustained March 11 during a game against the New Jersey Devils. The forward scored 19 points (12 goals, seven assists) in 27 games.
“I’m on track,” Lee said Sunday. “I was able to do a lot of really good things in the last 13, 14 weeks since surgery here. We pushed it pretty good and got as far as we could. I’m looking forward to continuing on that path and being ready for camp.”
New York’s season ended with a 1-0 loss at the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals on Friday. The Islanders have been eliminated by the Lightning in the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in consecutive seasons.
“It’s a really tough thing to have to kind of deal with in a year where we’ve been building for this kind of thing for a long time,” Lee said. “I think we had a group that we know what we were capable of, so getting hurt is pretty tough. … You miss out on being on the ice and on the bench and the room between periods, and that’s where the battles are kind of won and lost. You just want to be out there with the guys.”
Lee, who had been skating during the playoffs, will be back with the Islanders next season, but there is uncertainty for other key players. Forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac, who were acquired from the Devils following Lee’s injury, can become unrestricted free agents July 28, along with center Casey Cizikas. Defenseman Andy Greene can also become an unrestricted free agent, but the 38-year-old expressed a desire Sunday to continue his career with the Islanders. Zajac said he hasn’t given any thought to his contract situation yet.
The Islanders also need to re-sign defenseman Adam Pelech, forward Anthony Beauvillier and goalie Ilya Sorokin, who are restricted free agents.
Palmieri, who was born in Smithtown, New York, and has family on Long Island, scored nine points (seven goals, two assists) in 19 playoff games.
“It was an incredible experience,” Palmieri said. “I loved every second of it, from the fans, my teammates to the staff here, everyone was so welcoming. The bonds you build over a short period of time like that are special.
“Going into the offseason, obviously you don’t really know what the future’s going to bring, but I loved every second here.”
Cizikas was a fourth-round pick by the Islanders (No. 92) in the 2009 NHL Draft and just finished his 10th season with them. He’s centered what coach Barry Trotz calls “The Identity Line” with forwards Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck and plays a key role on the penalty kill.
“I haven’t thought about it too much personally, but that’s a conversation for another day,” Cizikas said. “I think right now, I’m just focused on being with the guys, spend these last few days before everyone kind of heads their own way, spend them together, do things together. I think that’s what I’m looking forward to right now.
“These are friendships that are going to last a lifetime. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs together and we’ve had some really good highs and then some lows. But this team is special. We’ve been together for a long time. I think friendships are what this is all about right now.”
Clutterbuck joined the Islanders in 2013 following a trade with the Minnesota Wild and has played much of his time in New York on the same line with Cizikas.
“I almost feel like he’s just a part of me as a hockey player at this point when you play with the same centerman for the bulk of your career,” Clutterbuck said. ” … Those things will work itself out. I’m not going to give it much thought. It’s not something I can control, but it goes without saying that I really enjoy having him and I’d love having him with me moving forward here.”
Trotz, who has guided New York to the playoffs in each of his three seasons as coach, praised Cizikas for what he’s provided and is hopeful he hasn’t played his last game with the team.
“He’s an Islander, you know it and I know it,” Trotz said. “He feels it. He cut his teeth here. He’s a big part of the organization. Things will work out and you go forward. No matter what happens, he’s had a big piece in what we’ve done the last three years and hopefully going forward.
“You want all the pieces. I’d want the Canadian Olympic team or the U.S. Olympic team during the regular season, but it’s not reality. You build your teams with the personnel that you have, with the pieces that you have, and keep trying to add it to the foundational stuff that your team has and then win with it. That’s what we try to do.”