The year was 1983, and the New York Islanders had just swept the upstart Edmonton Oilers to capture their fourth straight Stanley Cup championship. Despite many attempts over the last 38 seasons, no one has come close to winning four straight, meaning the Islanders had the league’s last true dynasty.
Here is a look at what has happened in the world of hockey since May 17, 1983.
1. Expansions, Relocations, and Realignments
When the Islanders last won the Stanley Cup, they only needed to beat 20 other teams across four divisions to secure the title. Since that season, the league has grown by expansion and relocation. The Minnesota North Stars became the Dallas Stars, and the Winnipeg Jets moved to Arizona and are now the Coyotes. The Quebec Nordiques changed countries and became the Colorado Avalanche, and the Hartford Whalers moved south and are now the Carolina Hurricanes.
The NHL grew by 11 teams, including several warm-weather places like Miami (Florida Panthers), Tampa Bay (Lightning), Anaheim (Ducks), and Las Vegas (Golden Knights). The league also welcomed back teams to former cities, Ottawa (Senators), Minnesota (Wild), and Winnipeg (Jets). Other teams to join were San Jose (Sharks), Nashville (Predators), Columbus (Blue Jackets), and Seattle (Kraken).
From 1974-1993, the NHL consisted of the Prince of Wales Conference (East) and the Clarence Campbell Conference (West). The divisions were Adams, Norris, Patrick, and Smythe. In 1993, the Eastern and Western conference names were born, and divisions expanded to the Atlantic, North, Southeast, Central, Western, and Pacific. Another realignment occurred in 2012, which led to the modern Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central, and Pacific divisions.
2. Canadian Dominance and Eventual Disappearance
Between 1976-1990, teams from Canada claimed the Stanley Cup 10 times in 14 seasons. The Montreal Canadiens (1976, ’77, ’78, ’79, ’86), Edmonton Oilers (1984, ’85, ’87, ’88, ’90), Calgary Flames (1989). The Islanders were the only American team to break up the stranglehold (1980-1983) on the silver chalice. After the Pittsburgh Penguins took the crown in 1991 and 1992, the Canadiens won again in 1993, marking the last time a team from the north were champions.
3. All-Time Points Record
Gordie Howe played his last NHL game on April 6, 1980, retiring as the all-time points leader with 1,850. Wayne Gretzky, who lost to the Islanders in those 1983 finals, would only need six more seasons before surpassing Mr. Hockey’s points scored. On Oct. 15, 1989, Gretzky broke the record with 1,851 en route to 2,857 for his career.
When you look at the NHL record book today, seven of the top 10 scorers of all-time have played the bulk of their careers after 1983: Gretzky (1979-99), Jaromir Jagr (1990-2018), Mark Messier (1979-2004), Howe (1946-80), Ron Francis (1981-2004), Marcel Dionne (1971-89), Steve Yzerman (1983-2006), Mario Lemieux (1984-2006), Joe Sakic (1988-2009), and Phil Esposito (1963-81).
4. Modern Facilities
When the Islanders skated with the Stanley Cup on Nassau Coliseum ice on May 17, 1983, little did they know that it would take almost 40 years to get a new home rink. That group of Islanders eventually retired from the game, never playing a game in most current NHL arenas. The only buildings left from the dynasty days are Madison Square Garden (New York) and the Scotiabank Saddledome (Calgary). Since 1993, 28 teams have moved into a new facility, whether through relocation, expansion, or necessity.
5. Expansion and Relocated Teams Win the Cup
There is a long list of teams who won or challenged the Cup in the last 38 years, but here’s a list of expansion and relocated teams who found success.
Two expansion teams (1990-present) have gone on to win the Stanley Cup, the Tampa Bay Lightning (1992) in 2004, 2020 and 2021, with the Anaheim Ducks (1993) in 2007.
Three relocated franchises have found success in new cities. Colorado (formerly Quebec) moved in 1996 and won the title that season and again in 2001. Dallas won in 1999 after relocating in 1993 from Minnesota, and Hartford moved in 1997 and won as Carolina in 2006.
6. Not Many Players Were Alive
Zdeno Chara was born on March 18, 1977, almost two years before the Islanders beat the Philadelphia Flyers for their first Stanley Cup. Joe Thornton was born in July 1979 and Patrick Marleau in September 1979. Together, the three are the oldest players in the league and the only ones born before the Isles reeled off four straight championships.
Ten players who played during the 2020-21 season were born during the dynasty: Ryan Miller (1980), Craig Anderson (1981), Mike Smith (1982), Pekka Rinne (1982), Andy Greene (1982), Jason Spezza (1983), Curtis McElhinney (1983), Mikko Koivu (1983), Duncan Keith (1983), and Mark Giordano (1983).
7. Cup Droughts
When teams don’t win the Stanley Cup for an extended period, those droughts can torture their fan base for generations. Here is a list of teams who broke curses since 1983:
- New York Rangers – 54 years – 1940-1994
- St. Louis Blues – 52 years 1967-2019
- Chicago Blackhawks – 49 years 1961-2010
- Los Angeles Kings – 45 years 1967-2012
- Detroit Red Wings – 42 years 1955-1997
- Boston Bruins – 39 years 1972-2011
- Dallas Stars – 32 years 1967-1999
8. Strikes, Lockouts, Cancelled Seasons, and COVID-19
During the 1991-92 season, the NHL lost 30 games to a strike called by the NHLPA. Additionally, the league lost half a season in 1994-95 due to a lockout, eventually playing a shortened 48-game schedule. For just the second time in history, no one won the Stanley Cup during the 2004-05 campaign since a lockout forced the league to cancel the entire season.
Another lockout occurred in 2012-13, forcing the league to play another 48-game schedule. The 2019-20 season was cut short due to the COVID-19 global pandemic before play resumed in Canada in a bubble environment. Due to travel restrictions and enhanced safety measures, the league ran a 56-game schedule for the 2020-21 season.
9. New York Area Success Stories
There are nine professional teams across the four major sports leagues, all located within a drive from Uniondale, NY. Since 1983, these eight teams have seen their fair of success in the NHL, NBA, MLB, and NFL.
The New York Yankees went to the World Series seven times (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2009) and won five. The New York Mets won it all in 1986 before losing in 2000 and 2015. The New York Giants have four Super Bowl titles, 1986, 1990, 2007, 2011, and one loss in 2000. The New York Rangers won the Cup in 1994 and lost in the 2014 Final. The New Jersey Devils have three titles (1995, 2000, 2003) in five finals appearances, losing twice in 2001 and 2012.
The Brooklyn Nets (formerly the New Jersey Nets) lost in back-to-back NBA finals (2002, 2003), while the New York Knicks also lost their last two finals appearances in 1994 and 1999.
The only team to join the Islanders with zero championships and zero finals appearances is the New York Jets, who have not played in the Super Bowl since 1968.
10. The Toronto Maple Leafs
Although the Islanders’ current Stanley Cup drought has reached 38 years, they got nothing on the Maple Leafs, who just surpassed their 53rd year without a championship or Final appearance. The Leafs were the last team to win the Stanley Cup during the Original Six Era and have yet to return to the Stanley Cup Final, reaching the semifinals only five times since 1967.
Although the franchise does not own the record for most seasons without a title yet, they recently broke a different record, surpassing the New York Rangers in days without a championship, which is now over 19,750 days and counting.
It is almost impossible to list all the NHL changes in the last 38 years. We left out many other essential moments like player salary escalation, Olympic participation, rules changes, and significant records broken or set.
The past two years, the Islanders were on the cusp of returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1983. The team’s core has fought to get to the semifinal back-to-back years and seems to be one piece short to get them over the hump.
If and when the Isles finally reach the top of the mountain again, perhaps in the first season at UBS Arena, it would be fun to revisit this list and give it the proper update it deserves, laying to rest the ghosts of playoffs past.
Ryan Gagne is one of the newest members of The Hockey Writers, covering the New York Islanders. He grew up in a small town in northern New Hampshire, where he idolized the Boston Bruins. Before moving to Canada in 2008, he was the equipment manager for his high school varsity hockey team and a sports journalist for the local newspapers. Ryan has been active in the hockey community, whether coaching, officiating, instructing, or playing. He is the ultimate rink rat with 19 years of experience making ice and driving the Zamboni. An avid fantasy sports player, Ryan created a blog, Keeping the Stats, where he dissects his teams and brags about his 2020 fantasy football championship. Outside of hockey, his life revolves around the New York Yankees, much to his wife’s chagrin.