Team Profile: The New York Islanders

It’s not easy to compete for recognition in a state that is home to three NHL franchises, while sharing a city with one, but the Islanders have managed to stand their ground. Consecutive Stanley Cup wins will do that for you…

They’ve run into some issues in recent years, but at this point which team hasn’t? Get ready, this is a long, dramatic history.

Team Overview:

  • They’re located in the Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference
  • Founded in 1972
  • Located in New York City, New York
  • Arena: Barclays Center (which is generally disliked…)
  • Owner(s): Charles Wang, Jon Ledecky, Scott D. Malkin (no relation to Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins, unfortunately)
  • GM: Garth Snow
  • Head Coach: Jack Capuano
  • Captain: John Tavares
  • Minor League Affiliate: Bridgeport Sound Tigers
  • Stanley Cups: 4

So basically the Islanders were founded because county officials in New York did not want the WHA team, the Raiders, to play in Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, since officials didn’t think the WHA was a major league. The WHA was in its early stages at this point. In order to keep the Raiders out, they persuaded an NHL team to make its home in the county.

While there were some reservations about starting a team so close to the already long-established New York Rangers, everyone involved realized that they could receive compensation from the new team for encroaching on the Rangers, but not from the WHA team.

The New York Islanders franchise was awarded to Roy Boe, owner of the New York Mets, in 1971.

Bill Torey was named the team’s first General Manager. He put an emphasis on developing players from within the organization, instead of trading for veterans, because as he put it, “we’re not going to beat this team next door by taking the castoffs from others teams. We’d have to develop our own stars.”

They had a terrible first season. The inexperienced team, which included young players Billy Smith, Bobby Nystrom, and Lorne Henning, finished with the NHL record for most losses and worst overall record in a season (at the time, at least). Finishing last overall, they were able to select first in the 1973 draft, picking Denis Potvin.

At the 1974 draft, they added Clark Gillies and Bryan Trottier, continuing with the theme of building a team via drafting instead of trading for talent. These young players would go on to lead their team to success. That following year they had one of the best comebacks in NHL history, earning 88 points to clinch their first ever playoff spot. Those 88 points were 32 more than the previous season, and 2 more points than their first 2 seasons, combined.

Despite losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Philadelphia Flyers, in the 3rd round, they did well, even staging a comeback in 4 games against the Penguins when down 3 games in the series. Only 4 other North American franchises have accomplished the reverse sweep.

The Islanders continued to face playoff disappointment despite their strong regular season performances. The 1975-1976 season saw them earning their first 100+ point season, which continued until 1980. Arbour, the head coach at the time, wanted players to put more focus on their playoff performance instead of their regular season dominance. That year, they won the Stanley Cup for the first time, beating the Philadelphia Flyers. This was after finishing the regular season with 91 points.

Their 1980 Stanley Cup Championship win marked the beginning of the New York Islanders Dynasty. They were also the first NHL team to win the Cup with Europeans on their roster (Stefan Persson and Anders Kallur). Their method of building a team through drafting proved successful, since most of the major contributors to their playoff run (and the next 3) were home-grown players.

They won the Stanley Cup the following 3 seasons, from 1981-1983, beating the Minnesota North Stars, the Vancouver Canucks, and the emerging Edmonton Oilers (which included the budding superstar, Wayne Gretzky) in each final.

1984 saw a re-match between the Oilers and Islanders, but with the Oilers emerging the victors, breaking the Islanders streak, and marking the beginning of their own dynasty. Up until this series, the Islanders had a 19 series playoff streak, which still remains the longest in the history of professional sports.

The next decade saw the Islanders decline a bit as their stars retired or left the team. Despite making it to the playoffs every year until 1989, they found little success.

During the 1987 playoffs, the Islanders played the Washington Capitals in a match now known as the Easter Epic. Despite being outshot 75-52, the Islanders won 8:47 into the 4th overtime, at 1:56 am on Easter morning. The Islanders went on to win the series, but were eliminated in the next round by the Flyers.

During the 1992-1993 season, the Islanders returned to the playoffs after a series of blockbuster trades rebuilt the core of players.

During the first round against the Capitals, Dale Hunter checked Turgeon from behind as he celebrated his series clinching goal. Turgeon suffered a separated shoulder, while Hunter was given a 21-game suspension. They won the next series against the defending champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in what was considered an upset. It was predicted that with Turgeon out, the Lemiuex, Jagr, and Francis led Pens would sweep the Islanders. This would be the last playoff series the Islanders would win until this past season, 23 years later.

1995-2000 saw major issues with management. The team received criticism for the handling of its major players. In an effort to bolster interest, they changed their logo for the 1995-1996 season. The logo was poorly received, as it was compared to Gorton’s Fisherman. Other teams mocked them by calling them fish-sticks. The logo was changed as soon as the league allowed it.

1280px-new_york_islanders_logo_1995e2809397-svg
The super short-lived Fisherman logo

During this time Mike Milbury was given major roles within the organization, at one time as both GM and head coach. So yeah, probably not the best idea.

In 1996, the franchise was sold to Dallas businessman, John Spano. Turns out this was another bad idea, as it was eventually revealed that Spano was a fraud, having misled the NHL and team executives about his net worth, forging documents to vouch for his wealth. After being forced to relinquish the rights to the Islanders team, Spano was sentenced to 71 months in prison for bank and wire fraud. The NHL was criticized for failing to properly vet Spano.

The team was finally eventually sold. The new owners tried to run the team on the smallest possible budget in order to make a profit. Nassau Coliseum was in need of serious renovations, and several star players were traded away to avoid paying their salaries.

In 2000, the team was sold again. The new owners encouraged Milbury to invest in players. However, Mike ‘Mad Mike’ Milbury made several unpopular moves that instead seemed to put the Islanders back several steps. For instance, he traded Luongo and Olli Jokinen to the Panthers, and selected Rick DiPietro instead of any of the several players ranked in front of him. He stepped down as GM in 2006.

In 2006, the Islanders signed DiPietro to a 15-year contract, the longest to date in the NHL. This was widely considered a poor move.

In 2009, the Islanders selected John Tavares, current captain, first overall. They still struggled in the standings, finishing last overall, or towards the bottom most seasons.

In 2011, voters in Nassau County rejected a proposal to build a new arena to replace Nassau Coliseum. This led to the team announcing in 2012 that they would move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the 2015-2016 season.

In 2013 they made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Only to be eliminated in the first round by the Penguins in 6 games.

They played their first regular season game at Barclays Center on October 9th, 2015. Many complaints have emerged about the arena, including poor vantage points from some of the seats, and even concerns about the quality of the ice.

The 2015-2016 playoffs saw the Islanders win a series for the first time since 1993, beating the Florida Panthers in 6 games. They were eliminated in the next round by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Issues with management and ownership really hold teams back. Hopefully, led by Tavares, this team will find future success.

Notable Players:

  • Denis Potvin
  • Bryan Trottier
  • Billy Smith
  • Mike Bossy
  • Clark Gillies
  • Pat LaFontaine
  • Bobby Nystrom
  • Bob Bourne
  • Brent Sutter
  • Ed Westfall
  • John Tavares
new-york-islanders-banners
Banners displaying the Islanders 4 consecutive Stanley Cup wins (photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

 

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