With the Stanley Cup years of the 1980s fading into the past, New York Islanders fans during the 1990s didn’t have much to cheer about following their team’s 1993 playoff run. The Islanders became irrelevant and their building and roster began to crumble due to a severe budget cut and gross mismanagement. But despite losing seasons and dismal attendance numbers, there were a handful of bright spots on the Islanders in the mid to late 1990s.
There was Travis Green, Derek King, Bryan Smolinski, Brian Berard, and Mathieu Schneider. The brightest spot, however, belonged to perhaps one of the league’s most underappreciated players of his generation, and one of the best post-dynasty Islanders,Zigmund ‘Ziggy’ Palffy.
Scoring in the Dead Puck Era
At a time when scoring was in decline, even with some of the best players of all time playing the game, Palffy became one of the NHL’s top scorers. If you take quick glance at the scoring leaders during the 1995-96, 1996-97, and 1997-98, seasons you’ll find Palffy among names like Brendan Shanahan, Ron Francis, Brett Hull, Mario Lemieux, Keith Tkachuk, and Eric Lindros. Over those three seasons, Palffy averaged 45 goals and 88 points a season, placing him in the top-10 in the scoring race during the 1996-97 and 1997-98 campaigns.
Though somehow, if you were to ask someone about the top goal scorers in the late 1990s, Palffy’s name may not be on that list.
Islanders’ Marketing Woes
Palffy not being a household name may have something to do with the Islanders’ marketing during their re-branding period in the mid-1990s. According to Nick Hirshon, former New York Daily News reporter and author of We Want Fish Sticks: The Bizarre and Infamous Rebranding of the New York Islanders, Palffy wasn’t chosen to be the face of the franchise even though he was far and away the best player on the team.
In an interview with Greg Wyshynski on the Puck Soup Podcast, Hirshon mentions that the Islanders never marketed Palffy because they questioned his leadership ability. This is an interesting sticking point, according to Hirshon, because he was a top scorer in the league, fans are wearing wigs to games, and he was a favorite intermission guest for opposing team’s networks.
In short, the rest of the league and the Islanders fans themselves saw Palffy as the face of the team, but the Islanders brass were, for some reason, reluctant to market him. The epitome to all of this? He was in only one newspaper ad during his time with the team, according to Hirshon. Instead, the team promoted players like Brett Lindros, who went on to play a total of 51 NHL games before retiring due to injury.
Palffy’s Career After the Islanders
After four seasons in which Palffy scored 158 goals, he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings on June 21, 1999, ending his career as an Islander. He would go on to have four straight seasons scoring 27 or more goals with the Kings, two of which were over 35. He retired following the 2005-06 season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, citing shoulder issues as a point-per-game player over 12 seasons.
Even though his career in the NHL was over, his hockey career continued for another five seasons in his native Slovakia for HK-36 Skalica. Palffy went on to have some amazing seasons in Europe, including 52 goals and 99 points in 53 games in 2008-09. He retired from the game for good in July 2013.
While he may never get the credit he truly deserves, Palffy is well remembered among mid-1990s Islanders fans. You can watch the 2019 IIHF Hall of Fame ceremony here.
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.