The history of the New York Islanders is encapsulated into three happy parts. The 1980 dynasty teams that won four consecutive Stanley Cups, the 1993 underdogs, and the recent Conference Finalists. Of course, the ’80s teams were the most important and had the most significant impact on the franchise. Thus, most of their all-time squad will consist of ’80s members. What makes them timely is the tragic early losses of many key players of the teams. The franchise has always honored its past, but that has ramped up significantly now.
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Mike Bossy (1977-1987)
Bossy is arguably hockey’s greatest pure goal scorer of all time. In 1980-81, he became just the second player ever to score 50 goals in his team’s first 50 games. The 15th overall pick in 1977 scored a franchise-high 69 goals in 1978-79, then followed it with 68 two seasons later. Injuries shortened his career to just ten seasons, but Bossy scored at least 50 goals in all of the first nine. He is not only first in Islanders history in goals with 573 but also third in assists and second in points. He did all of that in just 752 games. Rest in peace.
Clark Gillies (1974-1986)
Another legend lost way too soon; the fourth overall pick in the 1974 draft scored at least 30 goals in six of his 12 seasons on the Island. Gillies was not just a point-per-game player in his prime; he was the physical monster alongside Bossy and the next forward on the list. While he never reached 100 penalty minutes in a single season, Gillies had 891 PIM as an Islander, seventh in franchise history. His 663 points and 872 games are both in the top five among career Islanders.
Bryan Trottier (1975-1990)
The greatest center to ever play for the Islanders, Trottier won the Calder, Hart, Art Ross, Smythe, and King Clancy trophies over his career. The playmaker next to Bossy, Trottier played a franchise-record 1123 games with 1353 points. He also scored exactly 500 goals with New York, second to only Bossy. He won six Stanley Cups, including all four that the Isles won, plus two with Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in Pittsburgh. Unlike Bossy and Gillies, he was able to play out a long NHL career.
Bob Nystrom (1972-1986)
An inaugural Islander, Nystrom does not have the elite stats of Bossy, Trottier, or Gillies. However, he earned the nickname “Mr. Islander” for a reason. The shining moment of his career is the overtime winner to take home the club’s first Stanley Cup. Nystrom is fourth in Islander games played, ninth in goals, and 11th in points. Like Gillies, he was not afraid to get physical. Nystrom’s 1248 penalty minutes are fifth in franchise history.
John Tonelli (1978-1986)
Tonelli recently saw his number 27 raised to the rafters, honoring his championship-winning tenure that was often overshadowed. Drafted in 1977 as a 20-year-old in the WHA, Tonelli quickly made an NHL impact, sending the pass to Nystrom to win in 1980. That served as Tonelli’s breakout, as he scored 35 goals with 93 points in 1981-82 and 42 goals with 100 points in 1984-85. He was traded to Calgary during the 1985-86 season, as the dynasty team withered away. Tonelli’s .92 points per game are sixth in franchise history (minimum 500 games).
Butch Goring (1980-1985)
The renowned “missing piece” to the dynasty teams, Goring has become a symbol of Islanders hockey in all forms. He won with them as a player, coached them in 1999-00 and 2000-01, and is currently the team’s color commentator. Goring was acquired from Los Angeles in a trade that saw New York give away Billy Harris, the team’s first draft pick, inaugural best player, and an honorable mention to this team. He was a great defensive center and had 195 points over six seasons. Goring took home the Conn Smythe award in 1981 and recently had his number 91 retired.
Pat LaFontaine (1983-1991)
Although some of his best seasons came in Buffalo, LaFontaine’s Hall of Fame career was mostly spent as an Islander. As the team’s superstar following the dynasty, LaFontaine was trapped in weird transitional seasons for the franchise. As an 18-year-old in 1983-84, he burst onto the scene with 13 goals in 15 games. He was always a superstar, falling behind just Bossy and Trottier in Isles points per game (still minimum 500 games). The team could sadly never win with LaFontaine, and he was traded young to the Sabres in a monster deal. Just like Bossy, his career was cut short. Luckily for New York, that trade netted the next player on the list.
Pierre Turgeon (1991-1995)
Drafted by the Sabres first overall in 1987, Turgeon bounced around a lot, but his best season was on the Island. In 1992-93, Turgeon scored 58 goals with 132 points. Sandwiched between amazing years by Bossy and Trottier, Turgeon’s 92-93 is one of the best years ever by an Islander. He won the Lady Byng Trophy that season before Dale Hunter took him out of the postseason. Turgeon was dealt in 1995 to Montreal in the ill-fated transaction that brought in Kirk Muller. Turgeon is not in the Hall of Fame yet, a massive oversight.
Brent Sutter (1980-1991)
The Sutter clan has eleven members who either made the NHL or were drafted into it. Brent Sutter came up in the middle of the dynasty and earned two rings. He was a teenager then but became a superstar right after. In 1984-85, Sutter scored 42 goals with 102 points. He frequently received Selke votes, despite never winning the award. Sutter’s 610 points as an Islander is sixth in team history. He was traded after a decade to Chicago for Steve Thomas, another player considered for this team.
John Tavares (2009-2018)
Tavares’ reputation with the fanbase was lost entirely when he darted to Toronto before the 2018-19 season, but the former first overall pick was undoubtedly amazing for the team. He was twice a Hart finalist and just missed the Art Ross title in 2014-15. Tavares reached the 80-point mark three times as an Islander. Unfortunately, the Islanders were mostly terrible during his tenure. However, Tavares scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in 2016 to carry the Isles to their first playoff series win since 1993.
Josh Bailey (2008-Present)
Even more than Tavares in ways, Bailey has attracted the ire of the fans for multiple reasons. Bailey sits at 990 career games and will become the fourth Islander ever to play in 1000 games for the team next year, barring a shocking trade. He is an incredibly pass-first winger, with his 376 assists being fourth in team history. During the 2020 playoff run, Bailey was clutch, with 18 assists in 22 postseason games.
Anders Lee (2013-Present)
Instead of some close misses like Harris, Thomas, or Derek King, Lee gets the final spot. The current team captain is a leader in every manner and is locked up for likely the rest of his career. He scored 40 goals in 2017-18 and could reach the 30 mark this year in a season coming off a torn ACL. Lee’s offensive output has not been the same since Tavares left and the Barry Trotz defensive system was inputted, but he is still a presence in front of the net and the locker room.
Denis Potvin (1973-1988)
Is Potvin the greatest offensive defenseman ever? While Bobby Orr is probably still the answer, Potvin is seventh all-time in blue line points and third in points-per-game. In the latter, he trails just Orr and Paul Coffey. Moreover, Potvin is undoubtedly the best of those who played for just one team. All 1052 of his career points and all 1060 games played were on the Islanders. That is second in franchise history in both cases. He also racked up 1356 penalty minutes. The only Islanders with more are enforcers Mick Vukota, Richard Pilon, and Garry Howatt.
Stefan Persson (1977-1986)
Persson often falls under the radar among the dynasty members, but he was a key player for all four championships. The Swedish 14th-round pick only played for nine NHL seasons before returning home, but he finished with 369 points, a distant second to Potvin among franchise ranks. While he never received any award recognition, Persson had 15 points in 13 playoff games during the 1982 run.
Ken Morrow (1980-1989)
Morrow came straight from the Miracle Olympic team in 1980 to the Islanders and helped them win their first Cup. Morrow scored some huge goals in his career, despite having just 17 in his regular-season life. Most famously, he eliminated the Rangers in overtime in 1984. Morrow’s 550 games played are fourth for Isles defenders, and his rating of +142 is ninth in team history.
Kenny Jonsson (1996-2004)
Jonsson represents this rough era of Isles hockey after a trade with Toronto. Jonsson was sent with the pick that became Roberto Luongo for Wendel Clark, current Senators coach D.J. Smith, and Mathieu Schneider, an all-star defender who is one of the best short-term Islanders ever. Jonsson stuck around for the rest of his career until going home to Sweden. He played in 597 games as an Islander, with 232 points. As time on ice statistics was recorded during his tenure, Jonsson logged 25 minutes a game for most of his career.
Tomas Jonsson (1981-1989)
Kenny Jonsson is more known, but Tomas Jonsson (no relation) was an instrumental piece to the Islanders in the ’80s. He finished with double-digit goals in four seasons, reached the 50-point mark once, and was present for the final two Cups. His 333 points are third among Isles defenders, with his 532 games being fifth. Jonsson finished his NHL career with the Oilers in 1989, but he was still just 28.
Nick Leddy (2014-2021)
Leddy serves this spot as a placeholder until Adam Pelech or Ryan Pulock, the two-star defenders of the current Islanders, can jump onto the team. Leddy won a Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2013 and was traded to the Isles two years later. After the deal, Leddy became the power-play quarterback and transition skater for the team. Leddy was on both Conference Finals teams, although he was past his prime at that point. Last year, Leddy became a cap casualty and was traded to Detroit for a pick that became top prospect Aatu Raty. Leddy’s 518 games with the Isles are sixth in team history, behind the other five defenders on this team. He is also fourth in points, ahead of Kenny Jonsson.
Billy Smith (1972-1989)
The obvious choice here is Smith, a Hall of Famer who is also 23rd in team penalty minutes. Smith was the first goalie to be credited with a goal, and he won both a Vezina and a Jennings Trophy. Smith had a .895 SV% and a 3.16 GAA as an Islander, which was good during a very different era of hockey. His adjusted goals-against average of 2.68 paints a better picture.
Glenn “Chico” Resch (1973-1981)
Glenn Resch was arguably the better goalie of the tandem the Isles had in the late 1970s. In 1975-76, Resch finished 2nd in Calder voting with a league-leading .928 save percentage. He led the league in save percentage again at .914 in 1978-79. Resch was an elite goalie before he was traded to the Colorado Rockies/New Jersey Devils. His 2.24 adjusted GAA is the best in franchise history.
Al Arbour (1973-1994, 2007)
The 2007 part of this is a fun reminder of the time Arbour returned for just one game, so Arbour could have exactly 1500 games coached as an Islander. While Barry Trotz is carving out a solid tenure on the Island, Arbour is the choice here. Arbour coached during the dynasty and was also the last remnants of those teams when he coached the 1993 team during his second-to-last year. Besides Scotty Bowman, Arbour might be the best coach in NHL history.
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