When you think of the dynasty that was the New York Islanders in the 1980s, the most prominent names roll right off the tongue.
Potvin. Bossy. Gillies. Nystrom. Smith. Trottier. And most recently, (Butch) Goring and (John) Tonelli — the two players who had their numbers sent to the rafters just last month in the prelude to the suspension of the NHL season due to COVID-19.
Those eight names are just a small portion of the 17 who were there for all four Stanley Cups, or better known as the “Core of the Four.”
So that begs the question: Who was the most undervalued member of those Cup-winning teams?
For me, who wasn’t around to see it but have done tons of research on the matter, it came down to one name — Bob Bourne.
With all due respect to Anders Kallur, Ken Morrow, Stefan Persson, and a few others, Bourne was the model of consistency all four years the Isles were winning titles. Heck, even the fifth and final run to the Finals, he was still playing at an extremely high level.
Bourne, who played ten seasons on Long Island, had more than established himself prior to the Cup years when he first joined the Isles during the 74-’75 season. The Kindersley, SK native had tallied 30 goals in back-to-back seasons before the Islanders won their first title.
In 1979-80, the first of the four consecutive Cup seasons, Bourne only totaled 40 points in 73 games during the regular season after the start of the year saw him suffer a twisted ankle not once, but twice in two games. The setback cost him several weeks and took a toll on him being able to use his biggest asset — his speed; heading into that season, Bourne was recognized as the fastest player in the game.
Bourne, who was only 25 at the time, was also dealing with some personal issues to go along with his injury as chronicled in author Alan Hahn’s Birth of a Dynasty: The 1980 New York Islanders. His son had been diagnosed with Spinal Bifida early that season.
Bourne found his game late that year, and when the season ended, he still had the seventh most points and sixth in goals for any forward on the team. He gained the moniker as the catalyst. Former Isles assistant coach, Bill MacMillan, described him that way because of how his speed and effort would get his teammates going even if he wasn’t scoring.
In the playoffs, Bourne was re-energized. He notched 20 points in 21 games — third best for the Islanders and sixth-most in the postseason — and had some clutch performances.
His game-tying goal in game three of the first round against the Kings set the stage for the Isles to take a 2-1 series lead. His second-period goal in game four essentially sealed the series win. And facing Boston in the next round in game one, and the clinching game in Buffalo which sent the Islanders to their first Stanley Cup Final, Bourne tallied three points both times.
The 1980-81 campaign was Bourne’s best of his career and best as an Islander.
Bourne netted 35 goals and finished with 76 points. Only Kallur and Hall of Famer Mike Bossy scored more. He also accomplished another feat that still stands today as a franchise-record — seven shorthanded goals during the season.
Bourne was good once again in the playoffs. In 14 games, he recorded ten points, including a three-point performance to open the second round against the Toronto Maple Leafs and a goal and the game-winning helper on Butch Goring’s opening goal in the Cup-clinching game five at home versus Minnesota.
1981-82 is considered the greatest team of the dynasty, if not one of the greatest in NHL history. The Isles dominated the competition that year from the start, and Bourne again had a solid showing with another 25-plus goal campaign and 53 points overall. The postseason, he tallied nine goals, second to Bryan Trottier’s 16.
It was the third round against Quebec, though where Bourne dominated.
Sweeping the Nordiques, Bourne found the scoresheet in every game and ended the series with seven points in four contests. He would add two points in a wild game two 6-4 victory in the Final against Vancouver, which helped open the scoring and help the Isles tie the game just 32 seconds into the third period.
The final of the four consecutive Cup-winning seasons came for the Isles in 1982-83. The regular season was another excellent one for Bourne as well, 62 points in 77 games. Individually, Bourne assisted on the most goals of any year in his career with 42 helpers.
He also ended the year fifth in scoring on the club.
That postseason was when Bourne would introduce himself into franchise lore.
Bourne accounted for 28 points, one shy of the franchise’s playoff record 29, which was established by Trottier in 1980. His ten assists in the series against the Rangers was unbelievable and still hasn’t been broken. Although he set a club record that series, it was his coast-to-coast goal — part of his electric four-point night in game five — that’s still considered one of the most memorable in team history.
The Isles would sweep the Wayne Gretzky-led Oilers in the Finals with Bourne adding four points. Somehow he wasn’t named the Conn Smythe winner. Instead, it was awarded to Billy Smith.
The chance for a five-peat in 1983-84 would be the end for the Islanders. It was also Bourne’s last great season not only for the organization but for his career.
Bourne would post another 56 points in the regular season, and then in the playoffs, he got hurt, tearing ligaments in his knee against Montreal. The injury forced Bourne to miss the rest of the postseason, and the Islanders lost in five in a rematch with Edmonton.
Bourne would last two more years on Long Island before being placed on waivers at the beginning of the 1986-87 season. But the franchise never forgot what he did all those wonderful years.
They inducted him into the team’s Hall of Fame in November 2006, and now there’s an argument to be had about whether he should have his number retired. Bourne did play 814 games for the Islanders/ He does also claim the fifth-most playoff points (92) and seventh-most postseason games (129) in club history.
To say Bourne was underrated, some might say you’re wrong. Then again, the crucial role he played in the Isles’ dynasty can’t be overlooked.
He was the most underrated piece of that time and should always be considered a critical focal point.