From the great Mike Bossy to the electric Ziggy Palffy, there are a lot of well-known players who have laced up the skates for the New York Islanders since their inception in 1972. Many of those players spent a number of seasons on Long Island, solidifying their names in fans’ memories. But if you dig deep into Islanders’ rosters, particularly during the late 1990s and early 2000s, there are a lot of players that wore the blue and orange you may have forgotten about.
Best known for his time with the Vancouver Canucks, Trevor Linden was dealt to the Islanders at the trade deadline during the 1997-98 season in exchange for Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe, and the Islanders’ third-round pick in the 1998 Draft. Linden, 27 at the time of the trade, was the Canucks’ first-round pick (second overall) in the 1988 Draft and a centerpiece during their 1994 Stanley Cup Final run. McCabe, just 22 and the Islanders captain at the time, was rattled by the trade.
”I was shocked,” McCabe said outside the Islanders’ dressing room. ”I’m more sad than anything. I’ve been with these guys for three years. I don’t want to leave the boys.”From, “Isles Get Linden for 2 Young Players,” The New York Times – 02/07/98
This was just one of many head-scratching trades made by Islanders’ general manager Mike Milbury. In 107 games with the Islanders, Linden scored just 64 points (28 goals, 36 assists) and was named captain upon arriving on Long Island. After multiple injuries prior to joining the Islanders, Linden wasn’t the same player he was in the early 1990s.
He was traded to the Montreal Canadiens following a mediocre 1998-99 season. After playing for the Habs, he had a brief stop in Washington before he was reacquired by the Canucks in 2001. He played there for the remainder of his career, retiring following the 2007-08 season.
One of the first Russian players to win the Stanley Cup (with the New York Rangers, alongside Alexei Kovalev, Alexander Karpovtsev and Sergei Zubov), Sergei Nemchinov had a very brief stint with the Islanders after six seasons with the Rangers and a cup of coffee with the Canucks. He was signed as a free agent in July 1997 by Milbury at the age of 33 to a three-year contract paying him $1.5 million per season following an eight-goal, 16 assist performance during the 1996-97 season.
“Milbury added that Nemchinov will get more of a chance to show his offensive skills than he did when playing behind Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky on the Rangers. And he said being a former Ranger had no bearing on Nemchinov’s signing. “From, “Nemchinov Signed by Islanders,” The New York Times – 07/03/97.
Unfortunately, he never rekindled his offensive game with the Islanders. After 141 games, and scoring just 45 points, Nemchinov was shipped to the New Jersey Devils where he won his second Stanley Cup during the 1999-2000 season. Nemchinov is one of the 11 players to have suited up for the Islanders, Rangers, and the Devils.
During a flurry of trades by Milbury in June 2000, John “The Beezer” Vanbiesbrouck was dealt to the Islanders by the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick (from ‘Islanders Get Vanbiesbrouck for Goalie Insurance,’ Chicago Tribune, 06/26/2000). The experienced goaltender was brought in to mentor Rick DiPietro, the Islanders’ first overall pick in the 2000 Draft.
In his 44 games for the Islanders, Vanbiesbrouck won only 10, recording one shutout along the way. The 1985-86 Vezina Trophy winner was then dealt to the Devils before the trade deadline for Chris Terreri and New Jersey’s ninth-round choice in the 2001 Draft. He retired following the 2001-02 season. While it may be difficult to remember the Beezer in an Islanders’ uniform, many may remember Vanbiesbrouck on the cover of NHL 97 after helping to lead the Florida Panthers to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final (from ‘Florida Panthers’ Year of the Rat ended in an Avalanche of goodwill,’ Miami Herald, 04/13/2016). Like Nemchinov, Vanbiesbrouck also played for all three New York metro-area teams.
New York City native Mathieu Schneider’s career is littered with achievements. He was a major piece of the Canadiens’ 1993 Stanley Cup and a part of Team USA that won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. In between those major career moments, during the 1994–95 season, Schneider was traded to the Islanders from the Canadiens. The following season, he recorded 47 points in 65 games, earning him his first NHL All-Star game appearance. Shortly after the All-Star game, he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Sean Haggerty, Darby Hendrickson, Kenny Jonsson, and the Leafs’ first-round pick in the 1997 Draft, who the Islanders would use to pick Roberto Luongo.
One of the NHL’s more eccentric goalies, Ron Hextall had a strong start to his career, in which he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the losing goaltender in the 1987 Stanley Cup Final, and the Vezina Trophy, but his career took a turn for the worse in the early 1990s. Suspensions, injuries, and inconsistent play made him expendable by the end of the 1991-92 season. In the off-season, Hextall was part of a huge, controversial trade with the Quebec Nordiques that brought Eric Lindros to the Flyers.
While in Quebec, Hextall appeared to find his game but was traded again, this time to the Islanders, in exchange for Mark Fitzpatrick following the 1992-93 season. That transaction, which included swapping first-round picks with the Nordiques, meant the Islanders left goalie and playoff hero Glenn Healy exposed in the expansion draft. He was eventually picked up by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for their inaugural season.
Hextall’s time with the Islanders was short and tumultuous. He went 27-26-6 in 65 games during the 1993-94 season and followed that up with four straight losses to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Rangers in the first round of the playoffs.
“He had a slow start and a disastrous finish here, and New York’s a tough town,” Islanders GM Don Maloney said following Hextall’s trade back to Philadelphia (From, “Flyers Reacquire Goalie Hextall From Islanders for Soderstrom,” The LA Times/Associated Press – 9/23/94). In return for Hextall and the Islanders sixth-round pick in the 1995 Draft, they received 25-year-old goalie Tommy Soderstrom, who played a total of 78 games for the Islanders over three seasons.
The list of forgotten Islanders could go on for quite a while. Names like Cliff Ronning, Mike Comrie, and Felix Potvin are just three of the countless names that will have you down a rabbit hole researching obscure Islanders players. Have a player in mind? Comment below with your favorite forgotten Islander.
Jon Zella is a 31-year-old, Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.