The New York Islanders have fallen far since the 1980’s.
I have a coworker who is a die-hard New York Islanders fan. He routinely insists that the Isles are a far better team than the Philadelphia Flyers. The Islanders are, after all, a dynasty. When I noted that Philly would be on the ice in April this year while the Islanders would be golfing, his response was that the Flyers would be making a first-round exit.
I decided to put my money where his mouth was, and set about researching this New York Islanders “Dynasty” without the benefit of my Orange and Black colored glasses.
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The NHL awarded a Long Island franchise to Roy Bowe, who owned the New York Nets of the American Basketball Association on Nov. 9, 1971. Atlanta also got awarded a team in that same year. That team, the Flames, was moved to Calgary.
Thankfully, the team name of the “Islanders” was chosen over the expected name, the New York Ducks, when the NY Press core began using the nickname of “Isles” when writing about the team.
Veteran forward Ed Westfall was named the team’s first Captain prior to the 1972 season. Westfall and goaltender Billy Smith would lead their team to a 12-60-6 record in that first season, setting a record for the most losses recorded in a season.
The last place finish earned the Islanders the first pick on the 1973 entry draft; a pick that would land the Islanders much-coveted defenseman Denis Potvin. Despite the addition of Potvin, the Islanders could only manage a record of 19-41-18 for a woeful 56 points.
1974 would see the Islanders stunned the NHL with 33 wins and 60 points, for a third-place finish in the Patrick Division. The team’s first postseason play saw them beat their cross-state rival New York Rangers in the first round. The Isles dispatched the Pittsburgh Penguins in the quarterfinals but lost in the semi-finals to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Philadelphia Flyers.
The Dynasty Begins…and Ends
The Islanders would have to wait for their revenge on the Flyers but would have it in the1979-80 season. The Isles would win the first of their four consecutive Stanley Cups against the Broad Street Bullies.
This dynasty would see the Islanders lift Lord Stanley’s Silver Cup three more times, but that run would end in the 1983-84 season. That year would see them lose in the Finals to the next dynasty, the juggernaut known as the Edmonton Oilers.
In the 32 seasons since that Finals loss, the Islanders have not qualified for the playoffs fifteen times. When qualified, they have made ten first round exits. The Isles have made just ONE Conference Finals appearance, losing to Montreal in the 1992-93 postseason run.
Issues On and OFF The Ice
The Islanders have also suffered management issues, money problems, and bad choices in sweater logos. Prior to the 1995-96 season, the Islanders unveiled a new logo, featuring a fisherman holding a hockey stick. Unfortunately, the logo bore an uncanny resemblance to the Gorton’s Fisherman and was mocked universally.
Sept. 26, 2006 would see the Islanders sign Rick DiPietro to a 15-year contract worth a reported $67.5 million. At the time, it was the longest contract in the NHL and was second in all of professional sports only to the 25-year contract extended to the NBA’s Magic Johnson.
DiPietro was soon beset by injuries, and would eventually be bought out by the Islanders in July of 2013. He would retire after he was released by the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers in November 2013.
The Islanders have also struggled to find a home, leaving Nassau County Coliseum for Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the 2015-16 season. Attendance has dropped at their new home, with the Islanders having the 3rd worst attendance in the league since the move. The team was also sold in October of 2104, with the new owners, Jon Ledecky and Scott D. Malkin, taking majority control after the conclusion of the 2015-16 series.
A New Beginning?
Despite the near constant ridicule, I send the way of my coworker, the Islanders do appear to be on the rebound. Captain John Tavares was the first overall pick in the 2009 entry draft and has proven to be worth that pick. Mathew Barzal gives them a lot of hope for the future as well. And on Sunday, March 11, the Islanders beat the Calgary Flames 5-2.
Before anyone starts to doubt my loyalty to the boys in Orange and Black, I will end this piece with the following facts: In fifty seasons, the Flyers have only missed the playoffs eleven times. The Bullies have made it past the first round twenty-two times and have made six appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals plus the two Cup wins. If the playoffs started today, the Flyers would be on the ice, and the Islanders…well, let’s hope they have their tee times set.