Our second NHL Saturday miniseries returns after a brief break to examine one of the New York City teams today: the New York Islanders. This is an expansion franchise that started in 1972-1973 and within a decade became the most dominant team in the league. The Isles won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983, yet only 2 of those Cup winners made our list below. In 49 seasons overall, this New York franchise has made 27 postseason appearances. Not too shabby!
No. 5: 1980-81 New York Islanders
Just 8 years after inception, the Isles won back-to-back Cup titles with this team: a 48-18-14 record for 110 points and first place in the Patrick Division. The team was No. 1 in scoring, No. 4 in defense, and No. 2 overall in the SRS. As the defending champs, the target was also on its back. Yet the Isles dropped just 3 games overall—two to Edmonton in the second round—on its way to the NHL championship, earned in 5 games over the upstart Minnesota North Stars.
Five players topped 75 points, led by right wing Mike Bossy (68G, 51A), center Bryan Trottier (31G, 72A, 74 PIMs), and defenseman Denis Potvin (20G, 56A, 104 PIMs). In net, three goaltenders—Billy Smith (22-10-8), Glenn Resch (18-7-5), and Roland Melanson (8-1-1)—combined for five shutouts. After Resch was traded midseason, it was all Smith in the postseason: His 2.54 GAA was a great improvement on the regular season, as the Isles rolled to a second Cup.
No. 4: 1975-76 New York Islanders
In just the club’s fourth season, the Isles posted a 42-21-17 record for 101 points and second place in the Patrick. They were No. 6 in offense, No. 2 in defense, and No. 3 overall in the SRS. Not bad for an expansion team! After sweeping Vancouver in a best-of-three opening round, the Isles beat the Buffalo Sabres in six games, just one year after Buffalo had reached the Cup Finals itself. Next, the Montréal Canadiens ended New York’s stellar season in 5 games, though.
Potvin (31G, 67A, 100 PIMs) and Trottier (32G, 63A) led the team in scoring, while Smith (19-10-9, 2.62 GAA, 3 SOs) and Resch (23-11-8, 2.08 GAA, 7 SOs) shared the net. The two goalies also split time in the postseason, with Resch dominating the Canucks (.935 S%) and Smith getting all four wins against the Sabres. Against the eventual Cup champion Habs, though, both netminders took it on the chin (combined .894 S%). This was certainly a “growth” year for the Islanders.
No. 3: 1977-78 New York Islanders
Every eventual dynasty usually has a season first where they get upset in the first playoff matchup, and this was that season for New York: a 48-17-15 record for 111 points and a Patrick Division title went by the wayside in a 7-game, first-round defeat against the Toronto Maple Leafs. So much for the No. 2 offense, the No. 3 defense, and the No. 2 SRS finish. In Game 7 at home, the Islanders lost in overtime to Toronto, and the Lord Stanley dream would have to wait again.
Four skaters did better than a point a game on this team: Trottier (46G, 77A, 46 PIMs), Potvin (30G, 64A, 81 PIMs), Bossy (53G, 38 A), and left wing Clark Gillies (35G, 50A, 76 PIMs). Once again, Smith (20-8-8, 2 SOs) and Resch (28-9-7, 3 SOs) formed a very good partnership in net. Against the Maple Leafs, though, the offense managed just 13 goals in 7 games against Toronto G Mike Palmateer (.940 S%), and we all know a hot goalie can steal a playoff series just like that.
No. 2: 1981-82 New York Islanders
The Isles three-peated on the back of a 54-16-10 record and a 118 points (still a franchise record), not to mention another Patrick Division crown. They finished No. 2 in offense, No. 2 in defense, and No. 2 in the overall SRS. They got a five-game scare in the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but New York woke up after that, going 12-2 combined against the New York Rangers, the Quebec Nordiques, and the Canucks in the next three rounds. The last two series were sweeps.
Bossy (64G, 83A), Trottier (50G, 79A, 88 PIMs), and LW John Tonelli (35G, 58A, 57 PIMs) posted very good scoring numbers, while Smith (32-9-4) split time with Melanson (22-7-6). Strangely, neither goalie registered a single shutout in this high-scoring era of hockey. Nonetheless, in the final two playoffs rounds when the Isles went 8-0, Smith gave up just 19 goals, notched a shutout, and posted a .919 S% to keep New York on its impressive roll.
No. 1: 1978-79 New York Islanders
We all know the adage that you don’t usually “win” the Stanley Cup; it “wins” you. The best sabermetric team in Islanders history did not “win” the Stanley Cup, even though it would the next four years in a row. A 51-15-14 record for 116 points once again topped the Patrick, as New York was No. 1 in offense, No. 2 in defense, and No. 1 in overall SRS. However, after sweeping Chicago to start the postseason, the crosstown Rangers buried the Isles in a six-game upset that stung badly.
This team had three 100-point scorers and a fourth that came close: Trottier (47G, 87A, 50 PIMs), Bossy (69G, 57A), Potvin (31G, 70A, 58 PIMs), and Gillies (35G, 56A, 68 PIMs). Resch (26-7-10) and Smith (25-8-4) combined for 3 shutouts, too. The two goalies split time against the Black Hawks, posting 2 shutouts and a .968 S%. However, Resch went 0-3 against the Rangers, including the 2-1 loss in Game Six that ended the Islanders’ season too early. But the team learned, oh yes.