New York Islanders

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The New York Islanders play in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference.

With the impending start of the World Hockey Association (WHA) in the fall of 1972, the upstart league had plans to place its New York team in the brand-new Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Nassau County. The only legal way to keep the WHA out of the Coliseum was to get an NHL team to play there, so despite having expanded to 14 teams just two years before, the NHL hastily awarded a Long Island-based franchise to clothing manufacturer Roy Boe, owner of the American Basketball Association’s New York Nets. A second expansion franchise was awarded to Atlanta (who would become the Calgary Flames in 1980) at the same time to balance the schedule.

Islanders GM Bill Torrey did not make many trades for veteran players in the early years. Rather than pursue a “win now” strategy of getting a few veterans to boost attendance, Torrey was committed to building through the draft.

In the team’s first season, this young and inexperienced expansion team posted a record of 12–60–6, one of the worst in NHL history.

The team who finished last in 1972–73 received the right to pick first in the 1973 amateur draft and select junior superstar defenseman Denis Potvin. That same summer, Torrey made perhaps the most critical move in the history of the franchise when he convinced former St. Louis Blues coach Al Arbour to come to Long Island. Even with Potvin, who won the Calder Memorial Trophy as NHL Rookie Of The Year, the team still finished last in the East in its second year. Under Arbour, the team showed signs of respectability, and it turned out to be the team’s last losing season for 15 years.

In 1975, the Islanders made one of the biggest turnarounds in NHL history, and earned their first playoff berth. They stunned the rival New York Rangers in a best-of-3 first-round series, and in the next round, an even bigger surprise occurred. Down three games to none in the best-of-seven series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Islanders rallied to win the next four and take the series. Only two other major North American professional sports teams have accomplished this feat, the 1941–42 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 2004 Boston Red Sox. In the third round of the playoffs, the Islanders nearly did it again, rallying from another 3–0 deficit to force a seventh game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers before the Flyers took the decisive seventh game at home and went on to win the Stanley Cup.

In 1980, they finally broke through and won the Stanley Cup. Bryan Trottier won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. Torrey’s strategy of building through the draft turned out very well; nearly all of the major contributors on the 1980 champions were home-grown Islanders or had spent most of their NHL careers in the Islanders organization. This was the start of a Dynasty that would win 3 more consecutive Stanley Cups, and witness the emergence of Mike Bossy as a superstar. Bossy scored 50 goals in 50 games in 1981, and set a scoring record for right wingers with 147 points in an 80 game schedule in 1981-82.

Since losing in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1983-84, the New York Islanders have not made it back to the finals. After advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1993, where they would lose to the eventual Champion Montreal Canadiens, the Islanders would only make the playoffs 5 times, never advancing past the first round. The franchise was hampered during this period by management issues, suspect drafting, and trade decisions.

Presently, the Islanders hold the first overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, where they are expected to select London Knights superstar John Tavares. At the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, they selected center Josh Bailey. They also added free agent defenceman Mark Streit who had a great season for them in 2008-09. It’s good to see the Islanders building through the draft again, and this can only mean good things in the years to come.

1st Round Draft Picks

Franchise Scoring Leaders

Year # Player Player
2009 1 John Tavares Bryan Trottier
2009 12 Calvin de Haan
Mike Bossy
2008 9 Joshua Bailey Denis Potvin
2007 Traded pick Clark Gillies
2006 7 Kyle Okposo Brent Sutter
2005 15 Ryan O’Marra Pat LaFontaine
2004 16 Petteri Nokelainen John Tonelli
2003 15 Robert Nilsson Bob Bourne
2002 22 Sean Bergenheim Bob Nystrom
2000 1 Rick DiPietro Derek King