The Islanders-Rangers rivalry 2015-16 edition is set to begin this Wednesday. The 255th regular-season matchup. The rivalry is now closer than ever with just 5.8 miles separating Barclays Center from Madison Square Garden. Only one person has served as both the Islanders and Rangers general manager. Neil Smith served as Rangers general manager from 1989-2000. He was the architect of the 1994 Stanley Cup Champions. The Islanders hired Smith as general manager in June 2006. The marriage was short-lived as Islanders owner Charles Wang fired Smith six weeks later. Smith was critical of Wang’s front office structure. Wang set up a team of advisors to make personnel decisions rather Neil Smith alone. An Islander great and Hall of Famer even coached the Rangers for a brief stint. Bryan Trottier was hired as the Rangers head coach in June 2002. He served as an assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Colorado Avalanche before being named head coach. The hire angered Isles fans and eventually Rangers fans. The move proved to be disastrous as Trottier was fired 54 games into his first season.
68 players have suited up for both the Blueshirts and Isles during the 44-year rivalry. In that span, only two trades have occurred between the teams, the first in 1972 where the Rangers sent forward Ron Stewart to the Islanders for cash and the last in 2010 when the Islanders shipped defenseman prospect Jyri Niemi to the Rangers for a draft pick. Niemi never made it to the NHL.
10. Arnie Brown (NYR 1964-71, NYI 1972-73)
The defenseman has the distinction of being the first player to suit up for both the Rangers and Islanders. Brown was traded to the Islanders just days before the team was set to make their NHL debut. Brown did not last the season with the Islanders as he was traded to the Atlanta Flames in February 1973. Brown played for 5 NHL teams. He had his greatest success with the Rangers. In the 1969-70 season Brown would score 15 goals, 21 assists and have a plus 28 rating.
9. Darius Kasparaitis (NYI 1992-96, NYR 2002-07)
The 1992 fifth overall pick in the NHL draft made an immediate impact for the Islanders. Kasparaitis made the team as a 19-year-old. Just ask Mario Lemieux and Eric Lindros about his aggressive type of play. Kasparaitis was Super Mario’s Bowser in the 1993 Patrick Division Finals. The clutching and grabbing game that terrorized Lemieux in that series would not be allow in today’s NHL. The Isles upset the Penguins in 7 games. Kasparaitis was traded to the Penguins in 1996. Six years later, he would return to New York signing a free agent deal with the Rangers. Kasparaitis would play four seasons with the Blueshirts to finish his career.
8. Mike McEwen (NYR 1976-79, 1985-86, NYI 1981-84)
The 4-time all-star had his best offensive seasons with the Rangers. McEwen scored 20 goals and 38 assists in the 1978-79 season. In his four seasons with the Rangers, McEwen registered 141 points in 242 games. He was sent packing to Colorado in November 1979. McEwen found his way to the Island at the 1981 trade deadline where he would be a key player in the team’s second Stanley Cup. McEwen scored 6 goals and 14 points in the 1981 playoffs. He was also a member of the Islanders Stanley Cup winning teams of 1982 and 1983. McEwen was traded to Los Angeles in November 1983.
7. Glenn Healy (NYI 1990-93, NYR 1993-97)
Healy was an average goaltender in his four seasons with the New York Islanders. He saved his best play for his last moments with the team, 1993 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Healy led the Isles to the 1993 Wales Conference Finals. Healy went 9-8 with a 3.19 GAA and .887 save percentage. Those numbers do not stand out in today’s NHL. It was an eventful summer of 1993 for Healy, as he was left unprotected by the Islanders in the Expansion Draft. Healy was claimed by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the first phase. However, in the Phase II Expansion Draft, the Tampa Bay Lightning claimed Healy from Anaheim, which was the next day. That same day, Healy was traded from Tampa to the Rangers for their 3rd Round pick, which was actually Tampa’s because Tampa traded it to the Rangers. Get all of that? Healy did in 1994 what he could not in 1993, raise the Stanley Cup. He would back up Mike Richter for his 4-season stay with the Rangers. His best season with the Rangers was the 1995-96 season where he would post a 17-14-11 record with a 2.90 GAA and .900 save percentage.
6. Ray Ferraro (NYI 1990-95, NYR 1995-96)
“Chicken Parm” was acquired from the Hartford Whalers for defenseman Doug Crossman a month into the 1990-91 season. Ferraro really hit his stride the following season. He netted his second career 40-goal season and set a career high with 80 points. He was poised to build on that career season but injuries forced him to miss 36 games in the 1992-93 season. A healthy Ferraro was ready for the 1993 playoffs. He opened up the Patrick Division Quarterfinals vs the Washington Capitals with a 5-game goal streak. During that streak, Ferraro scored the game-winning overtime goal in Games 3 and 4 and followed that up with a 4-goal game in Game 5. He finished the 6-game series with 8 goals and 10 points. Ferraro’s biggest moment of his career came in Game 7 of the Patrick Division Finals vs the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions Pittsburgh Penguins. Forward David Volek one-timed Ferraro’s pass in overtime to give the Isles the series win and berth in the Wales Conference Finals against the Montreal Canadiens. Ferraro finished the postseason with 13 goals and 20 points. Ray had back-to-back 20 goal seasons the next two years before leaving in free agency to sign with the Rangers. Ferraro scored 25 goals in 65 games before being traded to the Los Angeles Kings in a 7-player trade for Marty McSorley and Jari Kurri.
5. Pat Flatley (NYI 1983-96, NYR 1996-97)
The 21st overall pick in the 1982 draft, Flatley was a key contributor in the Isles’ “Drive for Five” run. He scored 9 goals and 6 assists in 21 games in the 1984 playoffs. The Oilers dethroned the Isles in 5 games. Flatley, nicknamed “The Chairman of the Boards”, is considered one of best two-way forwards in Islanders history. He had two 20-goal seasons but his best offensive season was 1992-93 where put up 13 goals and 60 points in 80 games. Flatley was named the fifth captain in team history in 1991. Following the 1995-96 season, Flatley left via free agency to sign with the Rangers. He would play one season scoring 10 goals and 12 assists in 68 games. Flatley would retire after the season. In January 2012, Pat became the 12th Islander to be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame.
4. Greg Gilbert (NYI 1981-89, NYR 1993-94)
The only player who has won the Stanley Cup with the Islanders and Rangers, Gilbert won in 1982 and 1983 with the Islanders and 1994 with the Rangers. Gilbert scored a goal in his only regular season game in the 1981-82 season and didn’t play until the playoffs. His biggest season was in 1983-84 where he netted 31 goals and a plus 51 rating. The Isles traded Gilbert to Chicago in 1989. The Rangers signed him in the summer of 1993. Gilbert scored 4 goals in 76 regular season games and one goal in 23 playoff games.
3. John Vanbiesbrouck (NYR 1981-93, NYI 2000-01)
The Beezer played 11 seasons with the Blueshirts. His best season resulted in a Vezina trophy in 1985-86. Thirty years ago, 31-21-5, 3.32 GAA and a .887 save pct. would win you the Vezina in the very offensive NHL. Vanbiesbrouck led the Rangers to the Wales Conference Finals that season but ultimately lost to Patrick Roy and the would-be Stanley Cup Champions Montreal Canadiens. Beezer would split time with Mike Richter until the Rangers decided on Richter in 1993. The Florida Panthers claimed Vanbiesbrouck in the expansion draft in June 1993. Beezer led the upstart Panthers to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals but lost to Patrick Roy once again and the Colorado Avalanche. The Islanders acquired Vanbiesbrouck at the 2000 NHL Draft. The same draft where they traded Roberto Luongo and drafted Rick DiPietro first overall. Beezer was brought in to mentor the young DiPietro. He had 10 wins in 44 games. His GAA (3.01) and save pct. (.898) were better than his Vezina year. The Isles traded him to the New Jersey Devils at the 2001 trade deadline.
2. Don Maloney (NYR 1978-88, NYI 1989-91)
Say what you want about Maloney when he was the Islanders general manager but Maloney was a very good hockey player. He had five 20-goal seasons in his 11 seasons with the Rangers. He helped lead the Rangers to the 1979 Stanley Cup Finals. He scored 7 goals and 20 points in 18 games. His 502 points rank 11th on the Rangers all-time list. The 1978 second-round pick was a two-time all-star and was named the 1984 All-Star Game MVP. Maloney finished with 195 goals as a member of the Rangers. His time with the team came to an end in December 1988 when the Rangers traded Maloney to the Hartford Whalers. He spent a season with Hartford before signing with the Islanders in the summer of 1989. Maloney had his best season in three years. He scored 16 goals and 43 points in 1989-90. Maloney retired in January 1991 and immediately went upstairs to become the Islanders assistant general manager. He became the general manager 18 months later, a job he held for three seasons.
1. Pat LaFontaine (NYI 1984-91, NYR 1997-98)
The Islanders traded Bob Lorimer and Dave Cameron to the Colorado Rockies (now the New Jersey Devils) in 1981 for their first round pick in 1983. It became one of the greatest trades in team history as the 3-time defending Stanley Cup Champions selected Pat LaFontaine with the third overall pick. After competing in the 1984 Winter Olympics, Pat joined the team in time for the “Drive For Five”. LaFontaine recorded 9 points in 16 playoff games as their bid for a fifth cup ended in five games to the Edmonton Oilers. As the Cup winning players began to age, LaFontaine made the team his. The 20-year-old registered his first 30-goal season in the 1985-86 season. The following season, his game-winning goal in the 4th overtime of Game 7 defeated the Washington Capitals in the Patrick Division Quarterfinals. The game has been become known as the “Easter Epic”. Pat spent 8 seasons on the Island netting 287 goals and 566 points in 530 games. His 287 goals are tied for fifth in franchise history. A contract dispute led to his trade to Buffalo. LaFontaine played 6 seasons in Western New York before being traded to the Rangers right before the start of the 1997-98 season. Buffalo’s team management and doctors refused to clear LaFontaine, who was suffering from post concussion syndrome. LaFontaine believed that he could still play, causing the trade. He proved the naysayers wrong as he scored 23 goals and 62 points in 67 games. Pat suffered a career-ending concussion in March 1998. Since 2001, the Pat LaFontaine trophy is awarded to the Islanders-Rangers season series winner. The losing team has to make a donation to LaFontaine’s charity of choice.
Noel Fogelman is a 5-time Emmy Winner and started his career working on the Buffalo Sabres Pre and postgame shows for the Empire Sports Network. He then went to Bristol, CT to work at ESPN on NHL2Night and its coverage of the Stanley Cup. Follow me on Twiter @thefirstnoel19