Sunday, December 21, 2008
The 50 Greatest Islanders of All Time
I grew up spoiled. As a kid growing up on Long Island, I learned to enjoy the sport of hockey just as the N.Y. Islanders were emerging as one of the greatest teams in all of sports. It is stunning to consider just how far this once mighty franchise, now almost 40 years old, has fallen. But sport is about hope and nostalgia. As every sports fan knows, hope springs eternal. And in the interest of nostalgia, here is my purely subjective list of the top 50 greatest Islanders of all time.
50. Roman Hamrlik
Solid defenseman who specialized as a power play quarterback, "Hammer" was the Islanders All Star representative in 2003.
49. Lorne Henning
An original Islander, Henning played nine seasons as the Islanders transformed from an expansion squad to a dynasty. He specialized in killing Power Plays and scoring short-handed goals and famously, assisted on Bobby Nystrom’s overtime goal which gave the Islanders their first Stanley Cup.
48. Gord Lane
A rugged defenseman who possessed little in the way of hockey skills, Lane was nevertheless a key contributor to all four Stanley Cup wins.
47. Travis Green
A productive center, Green broke in with the Islander in 1992 and totaled 237 points before being traded to the Ducks in 1998.
46. Mick Vukota
Sure he was a goon but every team needs at least one; he bled Islander blue and orange for 10 seasons racking up 1879 penalty minutes.
45. Jason Blake
Speedy skater scored 40 goals in the 2006-07 season.
44. Kelly Hrudey
Goaltender made 73 saves in the “Easter Epic,” the classic four-overtime game 7 playoff game won by the Isles over the Capitals in 1987.
43. Wayne Merrick
A solid two-way center, Merrick centered Bob Nystrom and John Tonelli on the “Banana Line” and was a member of all four Stanley Cup champion teams.
42. Alexi Yashin
There was no denying his talent, but Yashin ended up symbolizing the era – overpaid and underachieving.
41. Michael Peca
An inspirational two-way player, Peca played only three seasons but made his mark as team Captain leading the Islanders to the playoffs in 2002, and winning the Selke Trophy, awarded to the league’s best defensive forward.
40. Glenn Healy
Healy’s goaltending was instrumental to the Islander’s playoff run in 1993.
39. Gary Howatt
An original Islander, Howatt was an energetic and combative terrier who, despite being only 5’9, was willing to take on anyone.
38. Maurice Czerkawski
Productive Polish winger had two 30-goal seasons and two tours of duty on Long Island.
37. Steve Thomas
All energy all the time, Thomas enjoyed his best season in 1992-93, scoring 37 goals with 50 assists.
36. Roland Melanson
Rollie the Goalie shared netminder duties with Billy Smith and won three Stanley Cups before he was traded in 1985.
35. Trent Hunter
A physical winger who can also score, Hunter is the heart and soul of the current Islander squad.
34. Dave Lewis
Very solid defenseman 1973-80, who missed out on the Stanley Cup when he was traded with Billy Harris for Butch Goring in 1980.
33. Benoit Hogue
A left winger with talent and flair (and a great name), Hogue was key contributor to the Islanders playoff run in 1993.
32. Anders Kallur
A smooth skating Swedish forward, Kallur won four Stanley Cups and is probably the most underrated player from the dynasty squad.
31. Rick Dipietro
A highly regarded goaltender, DiPietro is the team’s most important player (even if he is overpaid). Injuries are all that are keeping him from star status.
30. J.P Parise
Hard working winger is best known for scoring an overtime goal 11 seconds into overtime to beat the Rangers in famous 1975 Playoff Series.
29. David Volek
Talented Czech forward would probably be remembered as an underachiever but he provided a golden moment when he scored the overtime goal to defeat Pittsburgh in the playoffs in 1993. His goal represents the greatest Islander highlight of the past 20 years.
28. Duane Sutter
Nicknamed “dog”, Sutter was a feisty corner man and as tough as any of the Sutter brothers. A member of all four Stanley Cup teams.
27. Darius Kasparitus
Combative defenseman whose devastating hip check made him an instant fan favorite. As a brash rookie he consistently punished the great Mario Lemeiux as the Islanders upset the Penguins in the 1993 Playoffs.
26. Tomas Jonsson
Agile defenseman won two Stanley Cups with the Islanders and is one of three Swedish players to win the national championship, the World Championship, Olympic gold and the Stanley Cup.
25. Billy Harris
The first draft pick of the Expansion Islanders, Harris was a productive right winger on the famous “LILCO” line with Brian Trottier and Clark Gilles. He totaled 443 points as the Islanders grew into a powerhouse, but Harris was traded to the Kings in 1980 and never won a Stanley Cup.
24. Claude Lapoint
Gutsy center and terrific face-off man, LaPoint played over 500 games for the Islanders and was the three-time winner of the Bob Nystrom award to honor his leadership, hustle, and determination.
23. Rich Pilon
A solid stay-at-home defenseman, Pilon was a crushing body checker and intimidator who played over 500 games (1988-2000).
22. Derek King
Productive left winger with great hands, King quietly scored over 200 goals and is 10th on the Islanders all-time scoring list.
21. Ray Ferraro
A gutsy forward and likeable guy, Ferraro was one of the inspirational leaders of the team during the unlikely playoff run of 1993.
20. Dave Langevin
Bammer was a solid stay-at-home defenseman and important physical presence the four-time Stanley Cup championship team.
19. Ziggy Palffy
It’s too bad his teams weren’t better because Palffy was an exciting player and fun to watch. The Slovokian national scored 168 goals for the Islanders (1994-99).
18. Kenny Jonsson
A terrific all-around defenseman, Jonsson was perennially underrated as he played 597 games for the Islanders 1996-2004. He achieved well-deserved recognition in 2006 when he helped Sweden win the Olympic Gold Medal.
17. Butch Goring
A terrific skater and accomplished penalty killer, Goring proved to be the missing piece to the championship. He was great fun to watch too – tirelessly making his presence felt all over the ice. He joined the Islanders in 1980 and helped them win four straight Stanley Cups.
16. Ed Westfall
The former Bruin star joined the Expansion Islanders in 1972 and enjoyed four 30-goal seasons as the Islanders transformed from mediocrity to greatness.
15. Stefan Persson
Persson was a well-rounded defenseman and one of the first Swedish stars in the NHL. He played in over 700 games for the Islanders and was an integral part of their dynasty. He scored 5 goals in the 1980 Playoffs.
14. Pat Flatley
Flatley was one of those hard-working inspirational forwards that every team needs if it wants to win. He was a slow skater for a winger and he didn’t score many pretty goals but he did everything else so well – checking, passing, digging in the corners etc. He totaled 780 games and 170 goals for his Islander career (1984-1996).
13. Pierre Turgeon
There were high expectations for the talented Pierre Turgeon when he came over from Buffalo in a trade for Pat Lafontaine and very nearly met them, scoring 58 goals and 132 points in the 1992-93 season before Dale Hunter’s cheap shot effectively ended Turgeon’s season and the Islanders playoff run.
12. Glenn Resch
One of the most popular Islanders of all time, Chico Resch was an All-Star goalie but lost playing time to Billy Smith during the first Stanley Cup run and was traded to Colorado in 1981.
11. Bob Bourne
Probably the fastest skater ever to wear an Islander jersey, Bourne had three 30-goal seasons and was a key member of all four Stanley Cup squads.
10. Ken Morrow
Morrow joined the Islanders just one a week after winning the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics. He went on to play 550 games with the Islanders and his solid defensive play helped the Islanders win four Stanley Cups.
9. Bobby Nystrom
A physical right winger who often mixed it up and occasionally scored, Nystrom is appropriately remembered as “Mr. Islander.” His 900 games is third behind only Potvin and Trottier and his overtime goal to win the Stanely Cup in 1980 assured him of immortality.
8. Pat Lafontaine
One of the greatest American players of all time, Lafontaine joined the Islanders just after the 4th Cup victory. A terrific skater and scorer, only injuries held him back.
7. Brent Sutter
Probably the most gifted of the multitude of Sutter brothers, Brent won two Stanley Cups with the Islanders, succeeded Denis Potvin as captain and totaled 610 points and 287 goals.
6. John Tonelli
A battling left wing, full of heart and ability, Tonelli was equally at home on the top line (with Trottier and Bossy) or the famous “Banana Line” with Nystrom and Wayne Merrick. He had three 30-goal seasons and his defining moment was probably in the decisive playoff game against Pittsburgh in 1982. In the face of elimination, Tonelli scored the tying goal and the game winner in overtime.
5. Clark Gilles
A prototypical top line winger, Gilles was big and physical but also a gifted scorer and leader. He had six seasons with 30 goals or more and captained the Islanders to the first of their four Stanley Cup wins.
4. Billy Smith
One of top playoff performers in NHL history, Smitty won over 300 games for the Islanders and of course, four Stanley Cups. And he was one mean and nasty competitor.
3. Mike Bossy
Take your pick – you can place Bossy, Trottier and Potvin in just about any order at this point. Bossy scored 50 or more goals in nine straight seasons and totaled 573 career goals in just 10 seasons. One of the greatest scorers ever, his name is practically synonymous with the term “sniper.”
2. Bryan Trottier
A brilliant two-way center and the Islanders all time leading point producer, Trottier was probably the NHL’s greatest all around player in the early 1980s. When I was a kid, I got his autograph at Herman’s Sporting Goods in Huntington and was amazed by how normal he seemed, how physically unimposing. But he was freakishly strong on his skates. He had some bad blood with management at the end of his career, (and did himself no favors when he became Head Coach of the Rangers in 2002). But none of that should diminish his greatness as a player.
1. Denis Potvin
As a kid, I had a poster of Denis Potvin in my room. A skilled defenseman and devastating hip-checker, Potvin succeeded Clark Gilles as Captain and when he retired, he was the NHL career leader in playoff goals, assists, and points for defensemen. For me, he is the indispensible Islander - supremely talented, tough, arrogant and at the heart of every great Islander team and moment.
Sorry Ranger fans!