What Happened To The Once Great New York Islanders?


There was a time, boys and girls, when the New York Islanders were not a joke.  I know many, if not most of you readers are too young to remember, so gather around and hear the story of a once great franchise gone terribly awry.

I remember the days back when Denis Potvin was more than just a relatively annoying colour commentator for the Ottawa Senators television broadcasts.  He was the captain of the best NHL team around, a dynasty team that won 4 straight Stanley Cups in the 1980s.

They had this guy named Mike Bossy, a right winger who scored 50 goals NINE straight times, a record that still stands today. Forget Superman, I had Mike Bossy pyjamas when I was a kid, for crying out loud. He wasn’t the greatest skater in the world, but that release was phenomenal.  Think Brett Hull combined with Dany Heatley.

They had a centre named Bryan Trottier, who was essentially Jonathan Toews years before Jonathan Toews was even born. He was competitive, great at both ends of the ice and also had a mean streak.

If  you thought Trottier had a mean streak, as anyone who came within a stick length of goalie Billy Smith‘s crease about the mean streak of the Islanders goalie.  Smith’s temper was legendary, and oh yeah, he could stop the puck too.

The Islanders came into the league in 1972-73, and made the playoffs for the first time in 1974-75, their third year in existence.  Over the next 10 years, from 1974-75 to 1983-84, the Islanders played in an unbelievable 32 playoff series, winning 26 of them.  They won 4 straight Stanley Cups from 1979-1983 and made the finals in 1984 before handing their mantle over to the last real dynasty team, the Edmonton Oilers of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey.

Feb 16, 2013; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) celebrates his hat trick against the New Jersey Devils during the third period of an NHL game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Since the loss to the Oilers in the 1984 Finals, the Islanders quickly became an afterthought, then a laughingstock.  Potvin aged, Bossy succumbed to a chronic wonky back, and Trottier went on to help the Penguins win a pair of Stanley Cups.  They haven’t been the same team since, and it looks like Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum will never see the likes of it again.

Since the lockout, and by that I mean the first lockout that shortened the 1994-95 season, the Islanders have made the playoffs just 4 times in 17 seasons, and have won a total of 6 playoff games and 0 series. Mike Milbury made the franchise a joke and they have never recovered from the mishandling and devastating decisions.  Young up and coming stars Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan McCabe were traded for Trevor LindenRoberto Luongo was drafted 4th overall and then traded to Florida (along with Olli Jokinen) for Mark Parrish and Oleg KvashaRick DiPietro was then drafted first overall that same day,  and Milbury was quoted saying:

"“In the end, we thought the quality that DiPietro will bring is just a notch above Luongo. If we’re wrong, we may have made an unbelievable mistake. It’ll be bonehead city. It’s my job. If we’re not a better team immediately, off with my head. I’ve been here five years, and I’m tired of losing.”"

It didn’t exactly work out for Milbury, DiPietro or the Islanders.  Well, actually it worked out OK for DiPietro actually, as he signed a 15 year, $67.5M contract in 2006 that will take him and the Islanders through 2020. I’m not saying those three moves created the downward spiral, but they might be some of the worst decisions ever made in the history of the NHL.

John Tavares, Matt Moulson and company must look up at the banners hanging above the ice in their home arena and just feel such a disconnect from the past glory of the franchise.  Those Stanley Cup banners, conference titles and retired numbers feel like so long ago, and in fact Tavares was born 7 years after the Islanders last won the Cup.

He doesn’t remember it, and I am sure most of you don’t, but the Islanders were the greatest show on ice around the time when I became a hockey fan. I cheered for a lot of different teams growing up, before finally getting to settle on my hometown club.  The Islanders were one of those teams early on, and it pains me just a little to see them in the state they have been in for so long.  I am sure it brings a tear to the eyes of Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy too, because in a couple of years, the Islanders are moving to Brooklyn, because the decision makers on Long Island forgot what a winning team can do also, it has been so long, and didn’t do enough to help the team stick around.

The Islanders of today visit the Ottawa Senators tonight at 7:30 pm.

At least Sens fans can thank the Islanders for taking Alexei Yashin off our hands and supplying us with Zdeno Chara and Jason Spezza…yes folks, Milbury did that one as well.