The New York Islanders have been blessed with a lot of elite talent since their inception in 1972. Some of those players even made it to the Hall of Fame, though they consist of players from the dynasty-era in the early 1980s. Recent articles about all-time rosters got me thinking about the Islanders, but I decided to narrow it down to an all-time starting lineup.
This decision wasn’t exactly that hard. The first instinct is, of course, Billy Smith. He backstopped the Islanders to four Stanley Cup and 19 straight playoff series wins and played twice as many games with the franchise than the next goalie, Rick DiPietro. Following a William M. Jennings Trophy-winning regular season, Smith’s play during the 1983 playoffs was capped off by a brilliant performance against the high-flying Edmonton Oilers en route to their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup. During that series, he allowed only six goals in the Islanders’ four-game sweep of Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers.
Honorable mention: While he hasn’t won anything of substance, Thomas Greiss has quietly been as reliable as any goaltender in the NHL over the last handful of years. With the exception of the 2017-18 season, in which the Islanders allowed the most goals of any team in the league, Greiss has posted three seasons with a save percentage of .913% and above and two above .920%. He also ranks fifth all-time in wins and save percentage for the Islanders and has the ninth-best goals-against average. Greiss is currently in the midst another great season on Long Island.
Dennis Potvin isn’t just a lock for the Islanders all-time starting lineup, he’s often included on lists of all-time best NHL defensemen ever, ranking in the top five or six on some notable lists. As if captaining four straight Stanley Cup champion teams wasn’t enough, his resume also includes a Calder Trophy (1973-74), three Norris Trophies, nine all-star team selections, and was a nearly point-per-game player – as a defenseman. His tough style and scoring ability provided a solid anchor on the back end for the Islanders during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Potvin also had the honor of being the first Islanders player to have their number retired by the franchise.
After Potvin, it gets a little tougher to narrow down another top defender. Potvin scored three times as many points as the next defender (Stefan Persson), so points may not be the best indicator for us to use. There’s Ken Morrow, the first player to win an Olympic Gold and a Stanley Cup in the same year, who was a rock for the Islanders during the dynasty era and beyond. Do we need someone to compliment Potvin’s offensive abilities and slot in a partner with some toughness, like Darius Kasparaitis or Rich Pilon? Maybe something controversial?
Like many players during the Mike Milbury era on Long Island in mid-to-late 1990s, Bryan Berard was traded after only a few seasons in the blue, aqua, and orange. He started his NHL career with a Calder Trophy win, only the fourth Islander to win the award and the first to do so in nearly two decades. The others? Potvin, Bryan Trottier, and Mike Bossy. To add to the accolade, he beat out Jarome Iginla for the award. Berard was a smooth-skating defenseman with a nose for offense that could jump-start the play and get the puck out of his own zone. At the time, he was considered one of the better two-way defensemen in the NHL.
Honorable mentions: Obviously the aforementioned Morrow and Persson make this part of the list, but in addition, Kenny Jonsson, who helped turn the franchise around in the early 2000s, should also be considered a top defenseman in Islanders history despite his lack of flashy play.
This was the toughest section from the standpoint of narrowing down the players to just three. That also means this section will have a few honorable mentions because of the number of talented forwards the franchise has had, as few and far between as those types of players may seem.
As expected, we start again with the dynasty-era Islanders. Bossy was one of the NHL’s most prolific scorers and one of the league’s best players ever, let alone those who’ve played for the Islanders. During his 10-year career, all on Long Island, he had only one season when he didn’t score at least 50 goals. That season (1986-87), his last in the NHL, he still managed 38 goals in 63 games. In five out of 10 seasons, he scored 60 or more goals and was better than a point-per-game player in the playoffs to boot. Let’s not forget that he was the second player to ever score 50 goals in 50 games.
As good as Bossy was, he may not have been able to dominate if not for his long-time linemate, Trottier. During the 1975-76 season, Trottier’s first in the NHL, he won the Calder Trophy and immediately won over his teammates.
“It’s his poise that really stands out,” Billy Harris said during Trottier’s rookie year. “He’s always calm, regardless of the situation. And he’s got tremendous hockey sense. He is, if there is such a thing, a natural-born center.”
Harris’ words proved to be true. Trottier notched 1,353 points in 1,123 games with the Islanders over 15 seasons. He also collected 798 penalty minutes during his Islander career, bringing an edge to the lineup along with his ability to make plays and score goals.
While this next player had a chance to play with many dynasty-era Islanders, Pat LaFontaine made a name for himself as the team’s success fell further and further into the past. One of four players to score 50 goals in a season for the Islanders, LaFontaine was an offensive force. He scored 30 or more goals in six out of nine seasons and 40 or more in four seasons.
Honorable mentions: While the Islanders 50 goal club is pretty short, the 40 goal club includes a few more names. On that list, a smile will come to your face when you see the name Zigmund Palffy. A glimmer of light on a few hopeless Islanders squads in the late 1990s, Palffy was a point per game player for the Isles. This isn’t just impressive because of the lack of talent that eluded (or was traded away from) the Islanders during this time, it’s incredible considering it was in the midst of the dead puck era in the NHL. Other honorable mentions include John Tavares, Mathew Barzal, and Pierre Turgeon.
Jon Zella is a 30-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.