Friday, August 15, 2008


Those Other Teams Pt. 2: NY Islanders

Since I really fell in love with the Devils since 1994 or so, my own summation of the Islanders is two-fold:

1) Generally always behind New Jersey except in the 2001-2002 season where they finished 1 point ahead of the Devils.
2) Both comical and sad at the same time.

The first point is fairly self-explanatory. Yes, I understand the Islanders have had the Devils' number - most recently this past season. Yes, I understand that the Islanders were a dynasty in the early 1980s and were generally good up until 1994 except for a few hiccups. Yes, I understand I don't know anything about true legends like Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Billy Smith, Denis Potvin (who was the progenitor for a popular chant used today), Clark Gilles, and Al Arbour. I'm sure that were I born 10 years earlier, I'd have a different perspective on the Islanders and would certainly like them a lot less. Yes, I understand that.

But I can only ramble on about what I've seen. And from what I've seen, this has not been a consistently good team since Arbour was behind the bench. While they could even sweep the Devils in the season, it's highly questionable from year to year that they can even make the playoffs. Since 1994, they've done it exactly 5 times and that includes the 1994 playoffs. It's been an era of constant coaching changes, deals that come back to bite them in various parts of their body, and rebuilding only to rebuild again.

That leads me to point 2. As a division rival, this is very funny to see. The pick that became Jason Spezza and Zdeno Chara (oh, and Bill Muckwalt) for Alexei Yashin back in 1999? That was good. But the subsequent signing of Yashin to a 10 year, $87.5 million contract? Priceless. The days of "Mad" Mike Milbury. Speaking of horrendous and amusing deals, there was the infamous deal made at the 2000 Draft. Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen to Florida for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha. Sure, the Isles snagged Rick DiPietro; but Luongo and Jokinen developed into impact players for Florida and in the league as a whole. Parrish and Kvasha, well, they weren't bad, but not vital players.

When it came to the draft itself, the Islanders have had some success, having drafted some very good prospects. But they rarely benefited as most of them prospered elsewhere due to a trade - along with the aforementioned players there was Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe, Wade Redden, Eric Brewer, among others. It just kills you as a fan of the Islanders and it slays the rest of your rivals with chuckles, smirks, chortles, and ever-present "heh." Moreso when you consider the returns on some of these deals.

And when the Islanders drafted bad, they were bad. If your team has four first round picks in any draft, at least one of them has to hit. In 1999, it was Tim Connelly, Taylor Pyatt, Branislav Mezei, and Kristian Kudroc. None of those guys ever did made something of themselves for the Islanders. If they did, it was with somebody else. There were some big whiffs like Brett Lindros in 1994 (in all fairness, injuries messed him up - not the Islanders' fault); Mike Rupp at sixth overall in 1998 (seriously); their whole 2001 draft; Robert Nilsson over Zach Parise (thanks!) in 2003; and they may have just done it again trading down when they could have got Nikita Filatov. If you want to find more, feel free to search Hockey DB's year-by-year draft list for the Islanders, and be amazed at what spot was Dan LaCouture drafted overall.

Even when a player stuck around or got signed a ridiculous deal - hello, Miroslav Satan! - to play on Long Island in what they call an arena, who would be the coach? Al Arbour remains as the last bench boss to have lasted at least 5 years in the same position, and that was done back before 1995. Sure, the Devils have had a revolving door at coach; but the franchise (and its players) had a set team philosophy and remained successful. Each coach for the Islanders had their own take on the team, mostly having to answer to "Mad Mike" most of the time until the last few years, and so there wasn't much of a consistent style or overriding philosophy. Since Arbour, the most any coach has lasted at Nassau has been 2 seasons: Butch Goring, Peter Laviolette, and Ted Nolan, you all earn a no-prize for that feat. Laviolette was the only one to have had the team make the playoffs in both years, but he jumped to Carolina and eventually took them to a Cup. So much for Islanders management wanting to keep him.

But so what? They had an aloof GM, hindsight kicked the franchise in the face for over a decade, they've had some colorful record with prospects, and a lot coaches. Nice of you to give us that extended aside, great blast from the past, but really, so what? Well, because of all that -as funny as it could be/still is (seriously, the Yashin deal) - it's quite sad. As Devils fans, we've experienced great seasons on a regular basis - such to the point where we tend to expect deep runs into the playoffs every year. For an Islander fan, I would imagine making the playoffs consistently would be an amazing feat. But the once-shining franchise is now a orange-and-blue mess that they've been trying to clean up for the last 15 years. They're re-building yet again. They're looking to youth yet again. They're hoping to still be "players" in February and early March yet again. When you seriously think about it, it's just sad to watch. Even if they sweep the Devils, should they pick in the top 10 again, what would it all really mean? Not a whole lot.

For these extended reasons, I really can't hate the Islanders. I just pity them. I can't say their fans are particularly known for their arrogance (see: Toronto, Montreal) or generally being jerks (see: Philadelphia, Rangers). I just feel bad for them. Do I want the Devils to beat them? Of course! But it doesn't cause the same thrill of getting over one of your hated rivals. Even when the Rangers were especially bad, it was still great to see New Jersey beat them. For the Islanders, it's just not the same. How their franchise has rotted through poor decisions plays a big role in that.

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As far as arrogance goes, I would like to throw in a vote for Ottawa. That whole campaign of "bring the cup back to canada where it belongs" in '07.. i mean, come on. Plus being at the last game in CAA and seeing the Sens fans parading and chanting made my blood boil.
Five years? Hell, we haven't even gone *two* straight years without canning a coach outside of Arbour. I long for the days when my beloved Islanders aren't a laughingstock. Something tells me I'll be waiting for a long time.
you make me laugh devil fan, you never mentioned how your idiot G.M fired two excellent coaches just before the playoffs to try and make himself look good behind the bench. now thats classy. clean up your own mess before looking at others.
I would not throw Robbie Ftorek in the great coaches category, considering he really never did much once getting fired. Plus the year he got canned the Devs won the Cup, so I dont think anyone will complain about that.
Good comments everyone. Except for, sigh, anonymous. Learn to read man, I actually addressed that in the third to last paragraph:

"Sure, the Devils have had a revolving door at coach; but the franchise (and its players) had a set team philosophy and remained successful."

That's the big difference, the Devils fire coaches and the Devils are still a strong team. It's because the franchise has a direction - namely in our "idiot GM." The Islanders don't have any direction, so they keep changing the man behind the bench and hoping he sticks. And so that's a reason why they still suck.
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