The New York Islanders were the best team in the National Hockey League from May 24, 1980, until May 19, 1984. In those four years, the franchise set a record for consecutive playoff matchup victories with 19 while capturing the Stanley Cup on four occasions.
30 different players were members of those championship teams, with 15 players on the roster for the entire dynasty. A handful of those names include Hockey Hall of Famers like Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, Denis Potvin, Billy Smith, and Bryan Trottier. Other key names on those playoff rosters included Ken Morrow, Duane Sutter, Bob Nystrom, Bob Bourne, Stefan Persson, John Tonelli, Dave Langevin, Gord Lane, Butch Goring, and Wayne Merrick.
When teams go on successful runs, they usually acquire a few pieces to put them over the top or collectively discover their potential at the right time. There are hundreds of reasons why things just clicked for the Islanders from 1980 to 1984, yet there is no denying that anything was possible with the right players in the dressing room.
This article will examine the players who were key contributors to the NHL’s last true dynasty, when and how they arrived and when and how they left.
It All Started on Day One – June 6, 1972
There is no denying Billy Smith’s place in Islanders history. The Hall of Fame goalie was a four-time Stanley Cup Champion with a handful of other awards that include an NHL All-Star Game MVP (1978), Veniza Trophy (1982), Conn Smythe Trophy (1983), and a share of the William M. Jennings Trophy (1983). If that wasn’t impressive enough, he is the first goalie in history to be credited with scoring a goal, which occurred on November 28, 1979.
The Los Angeles Kings drafted Smith from the Cornwall Royals of the QMJHL in the fifth round of the 1970 Amateur Draft. In just one season with the Kings, he played five games with a record of 1-3-1. His goals-against average (GAA) was 4.60 while registering a save percentage (SV%) of 0.871. As a result, Smith was made available during the 1972 expansion draft. After the Islanders used their first pick on goalie Gerry Desjardins, general manager Bill Torrey selected Smith, who would lead the Islanders to the top by the end of the decade.
His numbers on Long Island break down like this: 304-230-104 (0.476% win percentage) with a 3.16 GAA and 0.895 SV%. Under the pressure of postseason hockey, his numbers were much better, 88-36 (0.666% win percentage) with a stellar 2.72 GAA and a 0.905 SV%.
After 17 seasons and more than 300 wins, Smith retired at 38 during the 1988-89 season. In his last game on February 1, 1989, he took a 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
O Captain! My Captain! – October 25, 1991
Current fans of the game probably only know Brent Sutter as a coach. Whether it was behind an NHL (Calgary), WHL (Red Deer) bench or leading Team Canada to World Junior Gold, most fans may not be aware of his 18 season career with the Islanders and Chicago Blackhawks.
As the 17th overall selection in the 1980 entry draft, Sutter was a member of the Islanders Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1982 and 1983. When Denis Potvin stepped down as team captain in 1987, Sutter was selected as his replacement, becoming just the fourth leader in franchise history.
During his 12 year career on Long Island, Sutter played 694 games and collected 610 points thanks to 287 goals and 323 assists. He had a plus-120 rating and 761 penalty minutes. In 88 playoff games, the former captain had 59 points (24G-35A) with a plus-13 rating and 120 penalty minutes.
Sutter remained the team captain until Oct 25, 1991, when he was traded with Brad Lauer to the Blackhawks for Adam Creighton and Steve Thomas. When Sutter departed, he became the last player to leave New York, who still had ties to the dynasty that had ended eight years before.
First Crack in the Armour – February 24, 1984
Unless you are a die-hard Islander fan, the name Wayne Merrick might not mean much to you. Merrick was the center of the famed “Banana Line,” with John Torelli and Bob Nystrom on the wings.
Initially drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 1972 (ninth overall), he was traded to the California Golden Seals and then from the Cleveland Barons to the Islanders on Jan 10, 1978. He joined the team along with Darcy Regier in exchange for J.P. Parise and Jean Potvin.
While on Long Island (seven seasons), Merrick suited up for 411 games, collecting 197 points (81G-116A) with a plus-42 rating and 135 penalty minutes. Every season in New York, he played in the playoffs, scoring 46 points (18G-28A) in 95 games.
Merrick stepped away from the NHL during the 1983-84 season, last playing on Feb 25, 1984, against the New Jersey Devils. He scored a goal in his final game before becoming the first player who had been part of all four championships to step away from the team and the game.
Thanks for the Memories – April 11, 1990
Bryan Trottier was a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he departed from New York in 1990. In fifteen seasons on Long Island, the native of Val Marie, Saskatchewan, rewrote the franchise record book.
Trottier is still the Islander’s all-time leader in points, with 1353 in 1123 games. He scored exactly 500 goals and collected 853 assists to go along with a plus-467 rating. In his first season, 1975-76, he won the Calder Memorial Trophy, and within three seasons, won the Art Ross Trophy and Hart Memorial Trophy in 1978-79.
During the Islanders dynasty team’s first run to the Stanley Cup in 1980, Trottier was playoff MVP, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy. The eight-time All-Star also won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 1988-89.
In 175 playoff games as a member of the blue and orange, Trottier scored 169 points (64G-105A). When the iconic center signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Penguins on July 20, 1990, he became the last player who won all four championships to leave the franchise.
As mentioned earlier, 30 players were members of four Stanley Cup championships with the Islanders. The list is shorter when you look at teammates (15) who were there for all four titles. When you break down the list even further, only three players who were members of the dynasty had the opportunity to win the Cup with another franchise.
Billy Carroll came to the Islanders through the 1979 Entry Draft. As a second-round pick (38th overall), Carroll managed to play 200 games with New York, winning three Stanley Cup titles in 1981, 1982 and 1983. On Oct 8, 1984, the Edmonton Oilers claimed Carroll in the Waiver Draft, which would allow him to win another championship in 1985. Thus, he became the first Islanders player outside of the dynasty to win a title with a different franchise.
Trottier, meanwhile, became the veteran presence the Penguins needed in 1991 to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. Teamed with the talented Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, Trottier became an alternate captain who helped guide the team to back-to-back titles. When he lifted the Cup again in 1992, he became a six-time champion in 12 years.
Greg Gilbert joined the ranks after the 1980 Entry Draft. As the fourth round (80th overall) pick, he played eight seasons on the island, including the 1982 and 1983 Stanley Cup-winning years. Gilbert went on to join the Blackhawks via trade on March 7, 1989. Then, in probably one of the most extended spans between Stanley Cup titles, he signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers on July 29, 1993, winning the Stanley Cup for a third time on June 14, 1994, and becoming the last member of the dynasty years to hoist the silver chalice.
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Ryan Gagne is back for his second tour of duty with The Hockey Writers. In 2021 he wrote about the New York Islanders and now will embrace the challenge of covering the Calgary Flames. The best part of this new assignment is Ryan currently lives in Edmonton and will get to see both sides of the Battle of Alberta up close and personal. None of this will make much sense since he was born and raised in New England and the Boston Bruins are his still team.