New York Islanders’ Greatest of All-Time

On Feb. 4, 1978, Hockey Hall of Famer and a member of the 100 Greatest NHL Players club, Mike Bossy, recorded the first hat trick of his NHL career as the New York Islanders won 6-1 over Washington.

In honour of that first of many accomplishments, we have pulled this nugget from the THW Archives, written by former THW contributor Anatoliy Metter and originally published Sept. 24, 2012.

Many hockey fans might remember the New York Islanders of the 1980s because of their collection of Stanley Cup championships, but those championships were built through careful drafting and key acquisitions.

Players such as Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier and Billy Smith were just a few of the 1980s Islanders that managed to bring multiple Stanley Cup championships to Long Island while cementing their careers as some of the greatest players to ever compete in the NHL. Other players such as Pat LaFontaine and Ed Westfall might not have experienced the Stanley Cup glory that the Islanders of the early ’80s enjoyed, but they played integral roles for the franchise during the ’70s and ’80s.

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While the New York Islanders of the late 1970s and early 1980s featured a plethora of future NHL Hall of Famers, the team had a number of players that did their best work when the pressure was on. Even though this list might only contain a select few Islanders, all of the individuals mentioned below were responsible for bringing prominence to Long Island’s only professional sports franchise.

Here they are:

15. Patrick Flatley

Pat Flatley might have arrived one season too late for a Stanley Cup championship, but the forward did not fail to impress the Islanders during his tenure with the team. Flatley’s 15 points in 21 playoff games during the 1984 postseason helped the right winger establish himself on a team that was already laden with superstars. While Flatley was a steady scorer for the Islanders from 1983-1994, the winger helped transition the team into the 1990s as its captain and was a key member of the Isles’ surprising playoff run in 1993.

14. Ed Westfall

Westfall came to the Islanders from the Boston Bruins by virtue of the 1972 NHL Expansion Draft and tremendously helped the team during his seven-season stint on Long Island. Westfall was the first captain of the New York Islanders and also scored the team’s first goal in their first game as an NHL franchise. While Westfall did not win a Stanley Cup Championship with the Islanders, he helped guide the team to the playoffs in 1975 and was especially dominant as he recorded 15 points in 17 postseason games played.

1963 Topps Ed Westfall card (By TGC Topps Gum Cards via Wikipedia)

During the 1975 run to the semifinals, the Islanders captain helped his team make history as his lone tally against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the quarterfinals was all that New York needed to complete the first-ever comeback from a 3-0 playoff series deficit. Even though Westfall wound up relinquishing his captaincy to Clark Gillies a couple of years later, the forward was one of a few “original Islanders” to have a drastic impact on the franchise when it first came into the NHL in the early 70s.

13. Glenn “Chico” Resch

“Chico” Resch played himself into Islanders lore in only his first full season with New York. Resch had an outstanding 1974-75 NHL season (12-7-5, 2.47 GAA), but the goalie’s biggest contributions came during the 1975 postseason as he relieved an inconsistent Billy Smith and was an instrumental part of the comebacks against the Penguins and Flyers.

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While Resch wasn’t a lifelong Islander, his name still carries tremendous weight with the franchise and the fan base. To say that “Chico” Resch was an important part of the Islanders’ development as an expansion franchise would be an understatement, to say the least. Billy Smith certainly earned his accolades throughout his career with the Islanders, but Resch was certainly just as adored by fans and just as integral to the success of the team during his tenure with New York.

12. John Tonelli

John Tonelli spent seven-plus seasons in an Islanders uniform and was around for all of New York’s four Stanley Cup championships. While Tonelli was traded to the Calgary Flames during the 1985-86 season, the left winger was a household name for Islanders fans because of his clutch scoring in the playoffs. After all, it was Tonelli that set up Bob Nystrom’s overtime goal against Pete Peeters to give the Isles their first of four straight Stanley Cups.

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Tonelli’s ability to put the puck in the net and make a crisp pass was not just limited to the postseason as the left winger put up 60 or more points in five regular seasons for the Islanders. In addition to being an adept scorer and hard worker, Tonelli was seemingly a player that fit into any role that head coach Al Arbour assigned him to. Like many of his teammates, Tonelli embodied the hard-working mentality that made the New York Islanders of the 1980s such a hard team to beat, both in the regular season and playoffs.

11. Butch Goring

Butch Goring (via Wikimedia)

Butch Goring had quite the track record before he joined the New York Islanders during the 1979-80 season as he had spent his entire NHL career with the Los Angeles Kings up until that point. Goring’s regular season offensive numbers might have waned with New York after he was traded from the Kings, but the center’s value to the Islanders was made clear during the 1980 and 1981 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Since Goring was a veteran by the time he was traded to New York in ’79-’80, his experience and knowledge of the game were undoubtedly a big help for an Islanders team with its fair share of young talent. Goring’s 19 points in the 1980 postseason and 20 points in the 1981 playoffs came in quite handy for the Isles and the forward will continue to be one of Bill Torrey’s most integral trade acquisitions, as well as one of the most respected individuals involved with the Islanders organization.

10. Stefan Persson

Not only did the New York Islanders of the 1980s win championships in convincing fashion, they did so with the help of European players, and one of their most notable contributors was Stefan Persson. The 6-foot-1 defender from Sweden was a member of all four Stanley Cup championship teams and was one of Al Arbour’s most reliable blue-line options. Persson might not have been the offensive juggernaut that Denis Potvin was for the Isles, but the defenseman more than held his weight in New York.

Persson’s steady production and sound defensive play certainly endeared him to his coaches and teammates as the defender was yet another Islanders player that showed up every night to battle for the team’s two points. Persson’s 15 points during the 1980 and 1982 Stanley Cup Playoffs were undoubtedly a big help for New York and it is safe to say that Persson was one of the first players to prove the old stigma of, “one can’t win with Europeans on their roster,” wrong.

9. Pat LaFontaine

Pat LaFontaine never won a Stanley Cup with the Islanders, but he was one of the more important players that tried to help New York transition after its run of four straight championships. LaFontaine spent eight seasons on the island and was an absolute fan favorite as he averaged almost a point-per-game pace over the course of his career with the Islanders.

Pat LaFontaine New York Islanders
Pat LaFontaine, New York Islanders (THW Archives)

While LaFontaine was known for his offensive prowess, he will forever be remembered for scoring one of the most memorable goals in Islanders history. The center’s decisive goal in the fourth overtime of the 1987 playoffs (Easter Epic) against the Washington Capitals all but cemented his name in Islanders history. Even though LaFontaine was eventually traded from the Isles and played for the Sabres and Rangers, Islanders fans won’t soon forget the center’s impact on the franchise.

8. Brent Sutter

Brent Sutter won two Stanley Cup championships with the Islanders and took over the Isles’ captaincy after Denis Potvin retired in the late 1980s. While Sutter’s offensive production skyrocketed during the latter portion of his career with the Islanders, the forward was an integral part of New York’s fourth straight Stanley Cup victory as Sutter, Bob Bourne and brother Duane Sutter formed one of the Isles’ best lines during the 1983 playoffs.

Perhaps Sutter’s 1985-1986 NHL campaign will be most remembered by Islanders fans as the center, along with line-mates Mike Bossy and John Tonelli, managed to put up more than 100 points during the regular season. Even though Sutter wasn’t a lifelong New York Islander, he certainly had quite an impact on the franchise during his 10-plus seasons of donning the orange, blue, and white.

7. Bob Bourne

Bob Bourne was a speedy center that was another key member of the Isles’ 1983 Stanley Cup championship team. As an Islander, Bourne scored 50 or more points during the regular season on six separate occasions, but one of his most significant contributions came in the 1983 season as he tallied 28 points in 20 games and led the Stanley Cup champion Isles in scoring. Bourne was another important piece of all four championship teams on Long Island and will be remembered as such as his name was rightfully inducted into the Islanders’ Hall of Fame in 2006.

6. Clark Gillies

Clark Gillies might have been the Isles’ tough guy/enforcer during his tenure with the franchise, but he was also a talented scorer. Gillies recorded 30 or more goals in six of his twelve seasons with the Islanders and was also quite useful during the team’s playoff runs of the 1980s. During New York’s first three championship runs, the left winger registered 16, 15, and 14 points respectively and was repeatedly used as a physical presence throughout his years with the Islanders.

While Gillies’ best post-season (21 GP, 12 Goals, 7 Assists) in an Islanders uniform would come during the team’s dynasty-ending loss to the Edmonton Oilers in 1984, the forward was enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame and Islanders Hall of Fame because of his play and influence on the Islanders of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

5. Bobby Nystrom

Bob Nystrom 1973 (By New York Islanders (eBay front back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

What more can be said about the man dubbed “Mr. Islander”?

When I was growing up and Islanders broadcasts were still played on AM 1050 ESPN Radio, the pre-game show would always start with an audio replay of Nystrom’s overtime goal. While this audio clip was just a few seconds, I didn’t understand the depth and meaning of the goal until I watched video footage of the play and saw the jubilation of the team after Bobby Nystrom potted the Cup-clinching goal.

Nystrom’s crowning moment as an Islander was undoubtedly his Stanley Cup-winning goal against the Philadelphia Flyers, but it was the Swede’s demeanor that made him the perfect embodiment of a 1980s Islander. Nystrom brought grit and reliable two-way play to the ice when his number was called upon and was a steady offensive contributor in the playoffs during the Isles’ dynasty run. Even though Nystrom never topped the 60-point mark in his 13-plus seasons in New York, the forward’s name will continue to be synonymous with the success of the Islanders teams of the early 1980s.

4. Billy Smith

Billy Smith was not only an original Islander, but he was perhaps one of the best clutch goalies to play the game of hockey. Smith was one of the most vital elements of the dynasty years as the goalie always delivered when playoff time rolled around.

Billy Smith, Nassau Coliseum, NHL, New York Islanders
Former Islander Billy Smith sits reminiscing about his playing days. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)

While Smith might not have had the workload of a modern-day netminder, earning merits such as the Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy, and the William M. Jennings Trophy can speak for itself. Players such as Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, and Bryan Trottier were some of the main weapons for the Islanders of the 70s and 80s, but it would be hard to confidently state that New York could have replicated their immense playoff success without Smith between the pipes.

3. Bryan Trottier

Bryan Trottier was one of the core pieces for the New York Islanders during the late 1970s and early 1980s and his numbers are a perfect illustration of what “Trots” brought to the franchise. From 1977-1982, Trottier recorded 100 or more points over five straight seasons and received a number of awards during his illustrious career such as the Calder, Art Ross, Hart, and Conn Smythe Trophies.

New York Islanders Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy, Stanley Cup (THW Archives)

Much like Bob Nystrom, Trottier’s dedication to playing effectively on both ends of the ice set him apart from some of his other teammates. While Trottier put up tremendous numbers while playing alongside other legends such as Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies, the center was yet another Islander that echoed the hard-working mentality that made New York the team to beat during the early 1980s.

2. Mike Bossy

If chronic back pain didn’t end Mike Bossy’s career, then one could only imagine how many more goals and assists the right-winger might have compiled. Bossy had nine consecutive seasons where he scored 50 or more goals and could have provided Wayne Gretzky with some significant competition if his back had held up.

Mike Bossy 50 Goals
Canadian hockey player Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders on the ice, February 1982. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

During his ten seasons with the Islanders, Bossy recorded 100 or more points on seven separate occasions and always carried his offensive play over into the postseason. Over the course of the Isles’ four Stanley Cup victories, Bossy managed to amass 111 postseason points (61 Goals, 50 Assists) and was arguably one of the main reasons for the Isles’ continued regular and postseason success. Even though Bossy never won the Art Ross and Hart Trophies, the winger’s 1,126 career points and multiple accolades and accomplishments would make Islanders fans of any age appreciative of what the forward did for the franchise.

1. Denis Potvin

Denis Potvin certainly lived up to his billing and gave the New York Islanders everything that they had hoped for when they selected him with the first overall pick in the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft. While Potvin’s offensive and defensive prowess was a key component of the Isles’ Stanley Cup days, one knows that the defenseman made a name for himself in the hockey world when they can still hear chants of “Potvin Sucks!” coming from modern-day Rangers fans.

Denis Potvin
UNIONDALE, NY – 1980: Denis Potvin #5 of the New York Islanders skates with the puck during an NHL game circa 1980 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)

Not only did Potvin draw the ire of Rangers fans over his illustrious career, but he also drew just as much respect from around the league for being a physical, hard-working, and offensively talented player that could help his team on both ends of the ice. Although injuries wound up hindering Potvin’s production during the latter portion of his career, the longtime Islanders captain should be revered as one of the greatest defensemen to ever play the game of hockey.

Architecture & Coaching

While Bill Torrey and Al Arbour did not play for the New York Islanders, they both cemented their legacies with Long Island’s only professional sports franchise. Torrey, better known as “Bow-Tie” Bill, built up the Islanders from an expansion franchise in the early 1970s to a dynasty team in just a decade. Torrey was responsible for drafting cornerstone players such as Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, and Denis Potvin, and the General Manager definitely earned his stripes and due recognition through a variety of wise draft selections and shrewd trades.

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On the other hand, Al Arbour was the legendary head coach of the New York Islanders that led his team to four straight Stanley Cup titles. Arbour’s tenure behind the Isles’ bench lasted 18 seasons (’73-’74 – ’93-’94), but the coach made one final appearance behind the New York bench during the 2007-2008 NHL season and the Islanders rewarded the long-time bench boss with his 740th victory and 1,500th game coached with the Isles. Not only did Arbour bring prestige and a winning attitude to Long Island, the coach also stuck around past the Islanders’ glory years and was as dedicated a coach as a player could have.

Having Torrey and Arbour at the helm definitely helped the Islanders accumulate a large amount of success during the ’70s, ’80s, and 90s, and the franchise’s longtime coach and general manager were just as important to New York’s success as its long line of legendary star players. While hockey fans might be quick to remember names such as Bossy, Potvin, Trottier, Smith, and Nystrom, the New York Islanders of the 1970s and the 1980s accomplished their feats as a collective unit, one that properly received the merits that it was due.

Enjoy more great hockey history and ‘Best of’ posts in the THW Archives

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