With only little more than two weeks to go before the drop of the puck on the Islanders regular season — man, two weeks? that’s it? — we’re at #16 in the countdown with two very important players in the history of the franchise.
In the 80s, post-Dynasty, there was no more popular Islander than Pat LaFontaine who spent eight years with the team from 1984 through 1991. He was drafted third overall in 1983, and if you’re wondering how a team coming off a fourth straight Stanley Cup got a third overall pick, well, it was another excellent move by GM Bill Torrey. In October of 1981 — yes, two years and a couple Cups prior — Torrey shipped Bob Lorimer and Dave Cameron to Colorado for the Rockies’ first round pick two years later. That pick was LaFontaine and it was a hell of a trade, getting what would eventually be a Hall of Famer who had seven 40 goal seasons.
LaFontaine burst onto the scene in 1983-84 as a rookie, scoring 13 goals in 15 games during the regular season of the Drive for Five and another three in the playoffs. While the Islanders wouldn’t find Stanely Cup success with LaFontaine during the 80s, he was a hell of a player, as his goal totals climbed each year. In his second full season in 85-86, he hit the 30-goal mark and two years later in 87-88, he would score 47. In 1989-90, LaFontaine would hit his high water mark with the Islanders, with 54 goals and 105 points in 74 games. The Islanders would be outsed in the first round of the playoffs that year by the Rangers, but he would finish 5th in the NHL in goals and 5th in points per game.
Only a few years later, things would get sour when it came time to re-sign LaFontaine between him, his agent and owner John Pickett. LaFontaine would sit out the early part of the 1991-92 season, saying he didn’t want to play for the Islanders as long as Pickett was owner (talk of Pickett selling had persisted for months). In two separate trades, Torrey would trade both LaFontaine and captain Brent Sutter to completely remake the team.
In June of 2006, LaFontaine was brought back into the fold of the organization as as senior advisor along with Neil Smith (GFY Keith!) but that would be short-lived as LaFontaine would resign later in the summer after Smith was let go. The relationship between the Islanders and LaFontaine is, at this point, on thin ice and he is not formally acknowledged historically and has not been inducted into the team’s hall of fame. Currently, he does a lot of charity work for his organization, Companions in Courage.
What LaFontaine was to the 80s, Ziggy Palffy was to the 90s.
Here’s what I wrote about Palffy on August 1st, when he announced his retirement from hockey:
Originally drafted in 1991, Palffy was one of the last diamonds that Bill Torrey would draft before being forced to resign the following summer. Torrey took Palffy with the 26th pick in the second round that year.
Palffy’s first full season with the Islanders was 94-95 and the following year was the first year of the awful fisherman jerseys. That same season GM Don Maloney would be replaced with Mike Milbury. The season after that, 96-97, would be the year that John Spano bought the team. And, the next year, Howard Milstein and Steven Gluckstern took over the team and instituted a minuscule budget. That would eventually be the end of Palffy on the Island and eliminating the one reason to pay to watch the Islanders when there was no reason to pay to watch the Islanders.
In 1998-99 Milstein and Gluckstern ordered Milbury to get the budget to the bare minimum, and so Palffy and his five-year, $25 million deal had to go. The situation being what it was, Palffy was almost shipped to the Rangers for peanuts and $2.5 million. The wild thing is the deal was nixed after the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement about the Islanders television coverage, as with M&G it was always about the off-ice situation. On June 21 he was sent to Los Angeles and probably the best Islander of the 1990s who was never really put in a position to succeed was gone. That year, Palffy would finish first on the team in goals and second in points despite playing 20-30 fewer games than everyone else due to the trade.
Statistically speaking, Palffy would have three 40+ goal seasons for the Islanders, but would never play a playoff game on Long Island.
So, WHO YA GOT?
Ralph Stewart (1973-1976)
Brian Lavender (1973)
Dave Salvian (1977)
Richie Hansen (1977)
Michel Bergeron (1978)
Steve Tambellini (1979-1981)
Mike McEwen (1981-1984)
Pat LaFontaine (1984-1991)
Brian Mullen (1993)
Ziggy Palffy (1996-1999)
Daniel Lacroix (2000)
Vladimir Orszagh (2000)
Craig Berube (2001)
Raffi Torres (2002-2003)
Justin Papineau (2003)
Justin Mapletoft (2004)
Mike York (2006-2007)
Jon Sim (2008-2011)
Marty Reasoner (2012-2013)