Anders Lee will be out for the rest of the season and have ACL surgery this week, New York Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said Wednesday.
The 30-year-old forward was placed on long-term injured reserve Sunday, three days after a collision with New Jersey Devils forward Pavel Zacha in the first period of a 5-3 win March 11.
He will be out for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"The rehab will not be as bad as a lot of ACL injuries are because there is nothing else damaged," Lamoriello said. "We feel he will be ready for next season; we have all indications of that. Certainly knowing the character and discipline of Anders and the rehab that he will be so diligent at, that he will be ready for next season."
Lee, who has been Islanders captain since the start of the 2018-19 season, scored 19 points and is tied with center Brock Nelson for the New York lead with 12 goals in 27 games this season. He had played 295 consecutive games and missed three in the previous six seasons.
"He's the life of our team and he leads us," Islanders center Casey Cizikas said. "He's one of the one of the best character guys in our dressing room and guys look up to him. That's why he's our captain, so losing him definitely hurts. Guys have big shoes to fill and we're going to continue trying to push forward and do as well as we possibly can.
"From an athlete standpoint you try to do whatever you can to heal and take care of yourself because coming off an injury like that, you want to make sure that you're 100 percent. You don't want to be rushing things, you don't want to be putting yourself in a vulnerable spot when you come back. You've got to take care of yourself. And that's what you've got to do when you're rehabbing, when you're doing those things. Because when you come back, you want to be 100 percent. You want to add to the team as quickly as possible."
Lee's placement on long-term injured reserve frees up $7 million in space under the NHL salary cap. With the NHL Trade Deadline set for April 12, the Islanders could pursue pending unrestricted free agent forwards such as Taylor Hall (Buffalo Sabres) or Kyle Palmieri (New Jersey Devils).
Kieffer Bellows has scored three goals in three games in Lee's absence on New York's top forward line with Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle.
"There's no question that now that we have cap room with Anders being on [LTIR]," Lamoriello said. "Whatever we can do to make ourselves better, we will be doing that. It certainly changes our focus. You lose a player like that, the role that he plays, our leading goal-scorer up until his injury, if we can get ourselves better, we will. But we will not do something just for the sake of doing it. But we're now looking a little differently.
"If we have the opportunity to get a scorer, we certainly will do that without sacrificing what is coming for the future."
The Islanders (19-7-4) had won nine consecutive games and had a 12-game point streak (11-0-1) before a 3-1 loss at the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. They are tied with the Capitals (19-6-4) for first place in the eight-team MassMutual East Division and play the first of three consecutive games against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MSG+ 2, NBCSP, NHL.TV). The top four teams will qualify for the playoffs.
"You have to move on and you have to find a way," Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. "Obviously the news is not great, but you'd rather know the reality of what you're facing than the what-ifs. The what-ifs are the ones that don't make you fully commit."
Bellows, 22, isn't the only young forward who has given New York a boost; Oliver Wahlstrom, 20, has scored 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 23 games.
"I think what we have right now is we have balance throughout the lineup," Lamoriello said. "Certainly the young players who've come in have done an exceptional job and they work very hard. They were ready when the opportunity came and they also know it's going to get a little tougher as you go towards the end of the season, but I think they're ready for that. But if we can add to this lineup that will not take away … sometimes you add and it takes away from other players, so you have to be very careful. Chemistry, to me, is as important as anything.
" … You have to think beyond this year when you make a decision because the cap is going to be flat next year, so any contract that you take on that is more than one year is going to disrupt whatever you're doing next year and will put you in worse shape. That complicates the matter without the cap increasing, but it's the same for everyone."
As for the leadership void left by Lee's injury, Lamoriello said he has faith in the Islanders' veteran group, headed by their alternate captains, including forwards Josh Bailey, Cal Clutterbuck and Nelson, who was assigned the role March 13.
"We have tremendous confidence in the players in this locker room," Lamoriello said. "Tremendous confidence in the leadership, so they certainly will take up that."
NHL.com deputy managing editor Adam Kimelman contributed to this report