The New York Islanders have been a member of the National Hockey League for 43 seasons. In that time, the blue and orange have had fourteen different individuals sew the letter “C” to their sweater. Unfortunately, most men to be appointed captain of the Isles did not hold the position for very long.
Creating a list of the five greatest captains in Islanders’ history was much more difficult than originally expected. Most of the Isles’ success occurred under the reign of one man, and one of the all-time Islanders greats did not make such a great captain. In addition, we have the current captain who has only worn the “C’ for a little over two seasons. Although this individual could possibly make his way to No. 1 on the list, it is much too early to rank him there.
So without further ado, I present to you my top five greatest captains in New York Islanders’ history.
1. Denis Potvin (1979-1987)
Potvin is the greatest Islanders captain of all time for a few reasons. For starters, he was the individual who was able to hold the position for the longest (eight years), wearing the “C” three more years than any other captain did. Secondly, he was the leader of four Stanley Cup champions. Lastly, as if we really needed any more proof, Potvin by far recorded the most points of any other Isles captain (498). When there is a discussion about the greatest player to ever put on an Islanders jersey, Potvin is always a part of the debate. When crowning the team’s greatest captain, there is no argument to be had.
2. Ed Westfall (1972-1977)
Westfall is currently the second-best captain in Islanders’ history for two big reasons. Westfall was the first ever player to wear the “C” for the Isles and not many other individuals held the position for a significant amount of time. The former Boston Bruin scored the first ever Islanders goal, as well as led the team to their first ever playoff berth in 1975. That year, the blue and orange made it all the way to the Stanley Cup semifinals. Westfall plays a significant role in Islanders history and for that reason he must be given praise.
3. John Tavares (2013-Present)
Ten years from now, Tavares could very well be sitting at the top of this list. However, placing him any higher than three only in his third year as Isles captain just did not seem like the right thing to do. In his two-and-some-change seasons with the “C” on his sweater, the Isles have been in the postseason once but look to be a constant in the quest for the Cup for years to come. Tavares has tallied a total of 67 goals and 96 assists in 149 games as leader of the blue and orange. There is no doubt, in my mind, that No. 91 will one day be in the discussion of greatest Islanders captain of all time, but matching Potvin’s four Stanley Cups will be a very difficult task.
4. Pat Flatley (1991-1996)
Flatley was drafted 21st overall by the Islanders in 1982. Although he never had the talent to be considered a star in the NHL, Flatley served as a reliable role player for the blue and orange. Flatley experienced success right from the get-go as he scored a goal on his first ever NHL shot and played a key role in the Isles “Strive For Five” during the early and mid 1980s. What he lacked in scoring, Flatley provided in hockey smarts, strong defense and heart. A team’s captain does not always need to be its best player. Sometimes a true leader can be found in an individual that goes out every day a does what he can to help his team win. This was the case with the Isles fifth captain, Flatley.
5. Brent Sutter (1987-1991)
Sutter was selected by the Islanders with the 17th overall pick in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. Like Flatley, Sutter experienced most of his success with the Isles during his early years when Potvin was still the team’s captain. When Potvin relinquished the role in 1987, Sutter took over and wore the “C” until he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in 1991.
Clark Gillies (1977-1979)
Gillies is hands down one of the greatest hockey players to ever pull a Islanders’ sweater over his head. However, he did not make a very good captain and has admitted that he never felt very comfortable in the role. Gillies decided to step down before the beginning of the 1979-80 season and let Potvin take over as the team’s captain. We can all agree that this was a pretty smart move.
Brian McCabe (1997-98)
Trevor Linden (1998-99)
Kenny Jonsson (1999-2000)
Michael Peca (2001-04)
Alexei Yashin (2005-07)
Bill Guerin (2007-09)
Doug Weight (2009-11)
Mark Streit (2011-13)
John Gove is an experienced hockey writer who admires the game at all levels. Currently, John is a contributor for The Hockey Writers, covering the Philadelphia Flyers.