The 2010s for the National Hockey League was special. It featured the retirement of Martin Brodeur, arguably the best goaltender of all-time, one back-to-back Stanley Cup champion and the 100th anniversary of the NHL in the 2017-2018 season.
The New York Islanders had memorable and forgetful moments throughout the 2010s. At a glance, the last 10 years featured an “old-time hockey” brawl, an outdoor game and a foundation for the team to make a Stanley Cup run in the future.
5. Islanders-Penguins Fight Night
On Feb. 11, 2011, the Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins participated in a game that would be regarded as “fight night” for years to come. To preface the memory, a week prior former-Penguins forward Maxime Talbot concussed former-Islanders forward Blake Comeau in Pittsburgh. Penguins players were seen laughing at the Islanders on the bench after former Isles goaltender Rick DiPietro fought and fell from one punch to former Penguins goalie Brent Johnson. The Islanders would not go quietly.
Matt Martin specifically targeted Talbot in the Feb. 11 game and made sure to send a message. Another Islanders enforcer at the time, Trevor Gillies, fought more than once that night as well. The Isles not only won the game 9-3 but also pummeled the Penguins physically. Over 300 penalty minutes later, the Penguins finished the game with seven skaters and the Islanders finished with nine.
4. The Islanders Return to the Playoffs
Starting in 2007, the Islanders missed the playoffs for seven seasons. In those years, the team had completely changed. John Tavares was the new face of the franchise, Rick DiPietro was on his way out and other prospects like Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey had cracked the roster and were coming into their own. Parts of the 82-game season that had plagued the young Islanders team in recent years, like their notorious bad play in November, long breaks or road trips, were not a factor in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
After clinching a playoff spot, the Islanders were seeded eighth in the Eastern Conference and played the No. 1 Penguins. The Islanders and Penguins were no strangers to each other (as you read about above) and Pittsburgh was heavily favored. Eventually, Pittsburgh beat New York in six games, but the majority of the matches were close and physical. The Islanders put the Penguins to the test.
3. John Tavares Saga
There was a lot of hype around the 2017-18 season for the Islanders, and it wasn’t all about excitement. After failing to re-sign him in the previous summer, former Islanders captain John Tavares was without a contract. Trade speculation heated up at points, but it was later revealed that Tavares requested to not be traded. In addition, former general manager Garth Snow put his foot down and said: “I will not trade John Tavares.” (from ‘John Tavares happy Islanders have no plans to trade him,’ Newsday, 02/02/2018)
On July 1, 2018, John Tavares chose to take his talents to his hometown and play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Fans were in disgust and some even burned jerseys because of Tavares’ decision. What some don’t know is that Tavares almost stayed with the Islanders. According to an article in the New York Post, Tavares’ agent, Pat Brisson, convinced him to take the free-agent meetings (from ‘The untold story of John Tavares nearly re-signing with Islanders,’ New York Post, 02/28/2019). That was the only window Toronto needed to woo “JT” to return to his home city.
Regardless of your opinion on Tavares, the center played for nine seasons with the Islanders and gave people a reason to watch them every night for the first time in years. Tavares will remain on the Islanders all-time lists for a long time being seventh in goals (272), fifth in assists (349) and fifth in points (621).
2. Islanders End 23-Year Playoff Series Drought
In the 2015-16 season, the Islanders clinched the playoffs for the third time in four years to play the Florida Panthers. This matchup, on paper, was less of a threat than their opponents in past seasons. Regardless, the Panthers still won the Atlantic Division.
Tavares and Panthers forward Reilly Smith would be two names to watch the entire series. Tavares piled up nine points in six games while Smith tallied eight. Islanders goaltender, Thomas Greiss, was a major reason the Isles won the series. With a .944 save percentage, Greiss was a brick wall in net when it counted.
In Game 6, in Brooklyn during double overtime, Tavares shot the puck, got his own rebound and wrapped it around the net to tuck it in on the other side of former Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo. This moment was so significant in the 2010s because it ended a 23-year drought that stretched through most of the 1990s and all of the 2000s. The Islanders were finally taking a step in the right direction.
Honorable Mention – Stadium Series
The Islanders played their first (and at the time of this being published) only outdoor game in franchise history on Jan. 29, 2014 against their cross-town rivals, the New York Rangers.
The Islanders lost the game 2-1 but it was a good back-and-forth contest. Brock Nelson scored his 10th of the season for the opening goal to take a 1-0 lead late in the second period. Before the second ended, the Rangers tied it up in the last minute. They would go on to score one in the third for the game-winning goal.
For the game, the Islanders introduced a brand new crest for the front of their jerseys. On a royal blue jersey, the team used the “NY” stick logo found on their traditional Islanders crest and removed everything around it. The sweater also featured the Islanders’ first use of a white shoulder yoke and different-colored nameplates. Non-traditional striping made it new and bold.
The jersey became the Isles’ new alternate and was wildly popular with the fans. It would serve as inspiration for the Islanders’ current alternate jersey released in Oct. 2018.
1. Changing Face
After the 2017-18 season, the Islanders had some of the biggest changes to their front office in franchise history. On May 22, 2018, Lou Lamoriello was hired as the president of hockey operations and general manager. On the same day, both head coach Doug Weight and former general manager Garth Snow were relieved of their duties. After the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup run, Barry Trotz did not re-sign with the Capitals. On June 21, he was hired to be the bench boss of the Islanders.
“He brings experience, he brings knowledge and he brings success, which is the most important thing,” Lamoriello said about Trotz in an interview with nhl.com.
Both men changed the culture on Long Island completely. Rules like low jersey numbers for younger players and no facial hair adds a discipline to the team. After the changes in the front office, Tavares left for free agency and the Islanders were counted out by everyone. Not only was the team competitive in the 2018-19 season but it had its best season since 1984 with 103 points. The Isles also had the least goals against in the league and Trotz won the Jack Adams (best coach) award.
The Islanders look very different from the start of the decade, but now the building blocks on the roster are there and the men in charge are true professionals. The 2010s were filled with ups and downs for the Isles and now the pieces are finally in place for them to have long term success.