The New York Islanders’ biggest rival right now is…

New York Islanders

As the sports world still deals with the coronavirus pandemic as its latest enemy, it seems like the perfect time to talk about rivalries. In the Islanders’ case, things have definitely changed over time since the team first came around in 1972 regarding their biggest rivals.

Just this morning in The Athletic’s fan survey of the team, one of the questions asked is who is the team’s biggest rival?

The choices given were the Rangers, Capitals, Hurricanes, Penguins, and others.

All four of those clubs deserve major consideration for being the Isles’ top adversary.  There have been memorable and not so memorable moments with each of those foes over the past few years.

But with all due respect to them, the organization’s most heated antagonist right now is: the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As much as people want to still say it’s the Rangers (the teams share a market) or the Capitals (a classic seven-game playoff series in 2015 and some knockdown, drag ’em out showdowns in the regular season over the past few years), there’s a number of reasons why the Leafs take the cake.

There’s just a certain type of electricity now when the Isles and Toronto square off. Even before John Tavares decided to bolt for his hometown club, the clubs always seemed to elevate their games against each other.

Now some would say the Islanders and Leafs not being division rivals means it’s not a true rivalry. But the two teams have had animosity for awhile now.

Back in 2002, the Islanders met Toronto in the first round of the playoffs after a renaissance campaign where they recorded 96 points and clinched the franchise’s first postseason berth in eight years. That series went seven games and was one of the most physical, grueling, and vicious series ever played in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Leafs would outlast the Islanders, but the result was a newfound hatred for each other.

Fast forward to 2007: The Islanders need a win over the Devils on the last day of the season to secure the eighth and final playoff spot in the East; they had defeated Toronto earlier in the week which helped put them in that position.

New Jersey made the interesting decision to start backup goalie Scott Clemmensen over starter Martin Brodeur. The Isles took advantage of that call, winning the game in a shootout 3-2 and knocking the Leafs out from the playoffs in the process.

This past decade saw the Islanders and Leafs share almost a similar path.

Both clubs were rebuilding early on and are now two of the more prominent teams in the league. They’ve shared players — Matt Martin, Michael Grabner, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolay Kulemin, and the aforementioned, Tavares. Shared executives and coaches. Lou Lamoriello — who was general manager in Toronto from 2014-18 — is now running the show on Long Island; Goaltending coach Piero Greco and assistant coach Jim Hiller were in the Leafs’ organization before joining the Islanders.

Toronto, and most of it from the media, has always looked down upon the Islanders for some reason. While that may not have an effect on the ice, it just adds to the intensity that two fanbases show off it.

Before Tavares became a Leaf in 2018, the media and Leafs fans were nonstop in their thinking that he would leave the Islanders to come play for them once his contract expired. Isles fans brushed off the notion that their franchise star would spurn them for the team he grew up rooting for. When he did, the distaste for the organization and their supporters.

That’s why when Tavares made his return to Long Island a year ago at the end of February, fans made sure to let him know how hurt they were by his decision.

The blow of Tavares leaving has begun to soften a little bit after the success the Isles have had since he left. Then again, the quiet rivalry between him and the organization’s new face — Mathew Barzal — seems like it could play out over the rest of their careers.

It’s not just those two individuals though. The teams are complete opposites of each other, which has made their clashes and will make future contests even more entertaining. Hopefully, there’s another playoff series between them down the road. The headlines would be glorious and social media be set on fire.

The Islanders have been known for having some intense rivalries, but whether you agree or disagree, none are as hotter or juicier than the one they have with the Toronto Maple Leafs at this moment.

 

 

The five jerseys the Islanders should bring back for their 50th Anniversary Season

new york islanders hockey player watching the crowd

The New York Islanders won’t be a half-a-century old for antother few years, but it doesn’t mean we can’t start thinking about how they should celebrate that anniversary campaign.

By that time, the franchise will be in its second season in their new home at Belmont Park. And maybe Mathew Barzal is starting to get his names in the ranks of the greatest players of all time to ever wear an Islander uniform.

The latter is more of a dream. Then again, it would be interesting to see what Barzal would look like wearing the classic look from the Isles’ dynasty years where they ruled the league and won four straight Stanley Cups and dominating. Or maybe picture him in the Halloween-orange jerseys the team wore from 2003 to 2006. The Reebok Edge threads the team donned during most of their rebuild at the end of the 2000s and into the early 2010s.

NHL teams always go big when they reach anniversary years. Just go back and look at the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs and how they celebrated their 100th year in the league. Even this past season the Vancouver Canucks executed bringing back their retro looks to celebrate while also evolving their current getups.

Like those select clubs, and many others who have celebrated anniversary seasons, the Isles also have a ton of uniforms to choose from to pay homage to their history.

And here’s five of them that should be brought back when that season gets underway:

5. The Navy Blues (1999-2007)

New York Islanders Trade History: Best and Worst Trades of All ...

After the franchise finally rid itself of the heinous fisherman logo and the wave jerseys with the original logo, they moved back to a more traditional look. For eight seasons, this set was fantastic and paid homage to the dynasty teams of yesteryear with the four-strip patch on the right shoulder. Sleek. Clean. Unflashy. The Isles organization had a rebirth in the years they donned this outfit, making the postseason four times.

4. The Road White Reebok Edge (2007-2010)

Mark Streit 2009 Pictures, Photos & Images - Zimbio

Following the Islanders’ last playoff appearance in ’06-’07, it felt like it was time for a change both on and off the ice. That meant the uniforms. And with Reebok now taking over as the official provider for the NHL, they brought in a whole new look for many NHL teams. One was the Isles, and low and behold, we got this underrated ensemble. These jerseys don’t get the respect they deserve, but they were a fan favorite of many who bought them. Yes, there were some lean years in these jerseys for many. But they were the first to be worn by the new wave of talent the organization was beginning to assemble.

3. The Post-Dynasty Blues (1984-1995)

Islanders-Capitals Game 7: Can it match the Easter Epic? | For The Win

Regarded by many as the greatest look the franchise has ever worn, these jerseys were just aesthetically beautiful in every single fashion. From the striping, to the logo, to the socks, everything just clicked with these duds. The Isles also continued to have good success in wearing these threads, making the playoffs seven out of 11 years. Lets not also forget the number of memorable moments that occurred while this was the team’s look. Can anyone say Easter Epic or David Volek?

2) Orange Crush (2002-2007)

Report: Islanders expected to have third jersey in 2018 ...

The Islanders had never had a third jersey in the history of the franchise up until 2002. Then out of nowhere, in November they debuted these bad boys (I know because I was there that night and my Dad bought me a Michael Peca one after the game). Some will still say it was a knock off of the Dallas Stars uniform set from back then, but they were still one of the coolest and most unique jerseys the team ever produced. Even to this day, walk around Nassau Coliseum at any time before or during a game, and you’ll find at least two or three fans rocking these sweaters.

1) The OG’s (1972-73)

Islander of the Day: Brian Spencer - Lighthouse Hockey

The first uniform debuted in the inaugural season of the franchise. These magnificent threads from top to bottom made the Islanders look like a major league organization, despite being an embarrassment on the ice. The orange numbers just pop from the moment you first lay eyes on them. These jerseys laid the foundation for the dynasty to come several years later. The organization has brought this look back only twice since they stopped wearing it after that first year — Retro Night in 2007 and the final regular-season game at the Coliseum (before they moved back last season) in April 2015. Celebrating 50 years since the franchise was born, this would be the perfect blend of nostalgia and allow a new generation of Islander fans to relive a bit of a missing piece of the team’s fabled history.

New York Islanders: Five Most Memorable Games this Season

New York Islanders

Before the coronavirus wreaked havoc among the hockey and sports world, the New York Islanders were in the midst of a fight for the postseason despite a 0-3-4 skid.

Their game was beginning to come back according to head coach Barry Trotz. That effort and mindset he spoke of were evident at many times during this season, mainly from mid-October till January.

Now, with it being over a month since the Isles have played a game and the season still on hiatus, it’s easy to look back on some of the more memorable games that occurred before the NHL shut down on March 12th.

5. John Tonelli’s Jersey Retirement (February 21, 2020)

It was a night that was long overdue for the organization and the fans.

Tonelli, a member of the “Core of the Four”, played an integral role in the Islanders’ dynasty. He was already a member of the Isles’ Hall of Fame but didn’t receive the honor of having his number sent to the rafters.

Tonelli and the Isles had a rocky relationship before new owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin took over a few years ago. Ledecky realized how valuable Tonelli was to the fabric of the team and brought him back with open arms, and eventually made it a point to see Tonelli’s number be put in the place it deserves.

So on February 21, Tonelli’s number was sent to the ceiling at Nassau Coliseum, making his the seventh to be retired by the franchise. Tonelli even shared a special moment with current Islanders captain, Anders Lee, for whom he said he would allow Lee to keep on the tradition of wearing the number 27.

As for the game, the Islanders played host to the lowly Detroit Red Wings. They had come off a very disappointing road trip, which saw them go 0-4-0 out West.

The Isles made sure they weren’t going to — and couldn’t afford to lose — on this night.

Jordan Eberle gave the Isles the lead just six minutes into the game. He would add another in the second period before notching his first hat trick as and Islanders with an empty netter late in regulation.

Leo Komarov added a second empty netter with seven seconds left to cap off a 4-1 win and a really fun night at the Old Barn.

4. Finally Beating the B’s (December 19, 2019)

The Boston Bruins have owned the Islanders for a long time.

Despite the 4-0 washout in early March and a hard-fought 3-2 OT loss in Brooklyn, the Isles finally got the best of the Bruins this season in Boston nonetheless.

In just one of their two appearances on national tv, the Isles headed to Beantown in a preview of a possible playoff matchup. The Bruins at this juncture were all alone atop the Atlantic Division and were again holding the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Trotz’s skaters, on the other hand, had just come off their worst loss under his since he became coach — an 8-3 pasting by the Nashville Predators.

Needing to bounce back and also finally beat the Bruins, the Isles came out with a purpose.

The Islanders would go down 1-0 early, just 1:58 into the first period. Boston’s Anders Bjork beat Semyon Varlamov with a wrister. After that, the Islanders played their smothering defensive style and received phenomenal goaltending to shut down the B’s lethal attack. The second period saw the Isles score twice on only six shots on goals by former Bruin, Johnny Boychuk, and Mathew Barzal

The third period came, and the Islanders did surrender the tying goal but never broke.

Skating stride for stride, the game went to overtime and eventually a shootout. Eberle and Barzal would score in the first two rounds for the Islanders, meaning the Bruins David Pastrnak would need to score to extend the skills competition. He did. Josh Bailey would miss with a chance to win it, leaving it all up to Brad Marchand. Varlamov stoned Marchand with his pad and gave the Isles their first win in Boston in over three years.

The victory also marked one of the signature wins of the season.

3. Back-to-back huge wins from the Captain (January 6 & 7, 2020)

2020 began with a bang for the Isles with a crucial 4-3 win down in Washington on New Year’s Eve. They followed that up with two duds against the fledgling New Jersey Devils and struggling Toronto Maple Leafs.

So they needed to get back on track, and they would be facing a back-to-back situation against a red-hot Avalanche team and those same Devils, who had defeated them a few nights earlier.

At home versus Colorado, the Islanders did their best to keep up after a strong first period. They did in part to some excellent netminding from Varlamov. The second period had the Avs take the lead, only to have it called back for the play being offside. A scoreless game into the third, Lee finally broke through for the Isles at the 6:54 mark of the third.

Lee’s tally would be all the Islanders would need as they hung on for a 1-0 shutout. Varlamov was the star, making 33 saves against his former squad and exacting some revenge in the process.

The next night in Newark, it was again Lee who would play the hero.

Tied 3-3 heading into overtime, Lee found some space as the Islanders entered the Devils’ zone after he made a feed to Devon Toews. Toews played catch with Lee, who let a wrist shot go just before he reached the hash marks.

The shot beat Devils goalie MacKenzie Blackwood top shelf, giving the Isles a 4-3 comeback victory and their second win in 24 hours.

2. Pushing the Limit in Pitt (November 19. 2019)

The Islanders were nearing the end of their 17-game point streak when they arrived in Pittsburgh for the first time all season. Just eight months earlier, the Isles celebrated on the ice at PPG Paints Arena after sweeping the Penguins in their first-round series.

This meant there was no love lost between the two rivals. The game itself looked like the Islanders had forgotten the Penguins, no matter dominating them in that postseason, were still a very formidable team.

Pittsburgh took a 2-0 lead into the second, but that’s where the Isles began to shift the game in their favor.

Anthony Beauvillier got the Islanders on the board early in the frame and Brock Nelson would tie the game three minutes later. Bradon Tanev would regain the lead for the Pens with under five minutes left in the period.

The third period looked like the Isles were going to see their point streak come to an end after Jake Guentzel doubled the Pens lead just 2:39 into the third. But then, the Isles fought back.

Josh Bailey got his team within one and the Isles pushed from there until there was under two minutes to play when Ryan Pulock ripped a shot past Penguins goalie Matt Murray to tie the game at four.

Now with one point in the bank, it was on to overtime. And it only took two minutes and 55 seconds for the Islanders to complete their comeback.

Beauvillier intercepted a pass along the wall in the Penguins zone, then fed a wide-open Nelson who threw a shot at Murray which led to rebound after the puck snuck threw his pads. Nelson, seeing this, skated right behind Murray and deposited the loose puck into the back of the yawning cage for an unbelievable 5-4 comeback victory.

That win itself was remarkable, as it set a new franchise record for games with consecutive points. But it was the other win just three nights earlier that claims the top slot for Isles wins this year.

1. Flying Comeback in Philly (November 16, 2019)

The Islanders had won in almost every single way imaginable in their absurd run from mid-October until late November.

It was this game on a Saturday night in Philadelphia that trumped them all.

Watching this game back, it actually wasn’t a bad game for the Islanders at all. They had outshot the Flyers 22-18 after two periods but still found themselves down 3-0 entering the third period.

Speaking of that final frame, the Isles kept pushing and finally broke through thanks to Beauvillier, who later on in the period got the equalizer.

Down 3-1 now and with just under eight minutes to play, the Islanders were given a chance to cut the lead to one with the power play. They converted.

A tic-tac-toe sequence saw Derick Brassard feed Nelson down low who then found an open Barzal in the slot whose shot beat Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott.

Beauvillier would tie the game just 4:18 seconds later to stun the crowd inside Wells Fargo Center.

Neither team could score in overtime, so it was on the shootout. There, both Eberle and Barzal — his sensational move — would score while the Flyers failed in their two attempts.

The Islanders were victorious 4-3 and pulled off one of their best regular-season comebacks in quite some time. The win was also the most memorable of the season.

Underappreciated New York Islanders: Michael Grabner

New York Islanders

In the early part of the 2010s, there wasn’t much to cheer about for the New York Islanders.

The franchise was still in its rebuilding stages. Nassau Coliseum was an eyesore. And the team was at the bottom of the barrel in the Eastern Conference.

But for all those dark days, one of the brighter parts was the ascension of Michael Grabner, who played five seasons on Long Island.

A former first-round pick — 14th overall — by the Vancouver Canucks, Grabner struggled to find his footing in the NHL after spending three years in the minors. At the 2010 draft, he was traded from Vancouver to the Florida Panthers as a part of a multi-player transaction. Grabner attended the Panthers’ training camp, but failed to make the team. This led to him being waived, set to be assigned to Florida’s AHL affiliate in Rochester.

On his 23rd birthday to be exact, October 5, 2010, the Islanders decided to claim the Grabner after forward Kyle Okposo suffered a shoulder injury in training camp that would require surgery. Veteran d-man Mark Streit also was sidelined with a shoulder injury that happened during camp that cost him the entire season.

“Michael is a former first round selection and a talented winger who has tremendous offensive ability,” said former-Islanders general manager Garth Snow the day the organization claimed him.

It didn’t take long for the Austrian native to show why Snow made the savvy decision to pick him up.

Grabner recorded his first point as an Islander in his third game and his first goal as in his fifth game. From that point, Grabner was off to the races, literally and figuratively.

By the time January came, Grabner had moved up the ranks as one of the premier rookies in the league. He became a threat at even strength and shorthanded; Grabner tallied a whopping six shorthanded goals during the year. And his incredible speed garnered him league-wide attention.

Participating in the SuperSkills competition at All-Star Weekend, Grabner won the Fastest Skater competition with times of 14.0 and 14.2 seconds. He followed that memorable weekend up with ten goals and 16 points in February — the most of any freshman during that month — and a six-game goal scoring streak, the longest by a rookie since the Pens’ Evgeni Malkin in 2006-07.

That excellent run earned him rookie of the month honors.

When that season came to an end the Isles had not qualified for the postseason, but Grabner’s electric season — 34 goals and 52 points — earned him consideration for the Calder Memorial Trophy. Despite leading all rookies in that goal category, Grabner would finish third in the voting, losing out to the Hurricanes’ Jeff Skinner. The Islanders also awarded Grabner for his fantastic campaign with a five-year, $15 million deal.

Grabner would once again eclipse the 20-goal plateau the following season and was once again a breakaway machine. He also evolved into one of the better penalty killers in the league.

The lockout shortened 2012-13 season was a revival of sorts for the Islanders and one of Grabner’s more underrated seasons. In 45 games, Grabner notched 16 goals — second-most behind John Tavares’ 28 — and 21 points. He helped lead the Isles back to the postseason for the first time in six seasons.

The Isles would push the Pittsburgh Penguins to six games, where they would lose the series in OT. Grabner amassed four points in that series, and it looked as if he was set to breakout.

2013-14 ended up being a disappointing season all around for Grabner and the Isles. The team couldn’t build off their success from the previous spring and missed the postseason. Grabner himself, missed 15 games due to injury and only found the net 12 times all year. His one lone bright spot came in late February, when he accomplished the rare feat of scoring two goals on the same penalty kill against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

That would be Grabner’s last great moment in orange and blue as he was riddled with injuries the entire 2014-15 campaign, only seeing the ice 34 times that season.

Snow dealt Grabner to Toronto a month prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. Since then, he’s made the rounds with the rival Rangers, Devils, and upstart Arizona Coyotes, for whom he is playing for now.

Grabner’s tenure on Long Island is still talked about even after he left. Some will classify him as a one-hit wonder; turns out he wasn’t. A fan favorite with his lightning-quick speed and ability to turn any opportunity into a breakaway, the Islanders were lucky to have him for the time they did.

The Isles have been lucky the past few years to have some speed demons of their own in Nick Leddy and Mathew Barzal. But before they came, it was Grabner.

And for that, he’s one of the most underappreciated players to ever come across the franchise.

 

 

 

Josh Bailey Will Never be Elite, But No One Can Deny His Value to the Islanders

Josh Bailey, New York Islanders

Josh Bailey has been a constant in the New York Islanders organization for 12 years now.

Spending that amount of time with one franchise, you’re bound to have those who will back you and those who will pick you apart.

But Bailey is different.

There is not one player in the franchise’s recent history — maybe even their entire history — who has become such a highly divisive topic among fans as Bailey. It all relates back to when he was first drafted.

Selected 9th overall in 2008, the Bowmanville, ON native was thrown right into the fire as a 19-year-old. The expectations put on him by the team were through the roof, ones he wasn’t ready for. Bailey came out of juniors as a potential legit goal scorer, having scored 29 goals in his draft year. But as we’ve come to know him throughout his career — he wasn’t a bonafide scorer but more of a playmaker.

And that first season, Bailey struggled to be that reliable scoring threat. He was definitely being rushed and not properly developed. That hurt Bailey in the early years of his career while also making it easy for the fans to sour on him.

All these years later, though, Bailey’s value to the organization shouldn’t be undermined.

He’s not an elite player. He’s never scored 20 goals, become an 80-85 point guy, or ever been consistent. So we can joke on social media about that until he’s no longer playing.

All that joking though, should be a slight reminder that Bailey is a very solid hockey player and that the Isles have are lucky to have him.

A top-six forward? Third liner? Product of John Tavares?

However you interpret him, no one on the current Islanders’ roster has been around as long as Bailey. No one has had to endure the number of organizational changes as him. And no one has donned the crest with such pride, class, and dignity as Bailey. There’s a reason he wears an “A” on his sweater.

“With Bails, it’s all IQ,” head coach Barry Trotz said last year to Newsday. “He’s a cerebral player. He makes brilliant reads, and they’ll be some things, they’re more subtle. You’ve got to watch him closely. If you’re just looking for the wow factor, you probably don’t see that in Josh. What you do see is all the subtleties and sort of the thinking man’s player.”

If all goes according to plan, Bailey will play the rest of his career in orange and blue. He’s not too far from playing in 1000 games, sitting at 865 right now. Only two players, franchise legends Denis Potvin and Bryan Trottier, have accomplished the feat. Bailey is also already in the top-ten in assists in franchise history and will soon be in that same category in points.

Could his number 12 be retired one day? Maybe.

Bob Nystrom, Butch Goring, and John Tonelli, they weren’t so-called “elite.” Their numbers all hang up in the rafters. Did they win Stanley Cups? Of course. But they brought value to the organization that can’t be understated.

Bailey is in that conversation and will be until his days with the Isles are finished because of what he’s meant these last 12 years.

 

 

 

Losing Adam Pelech Nearly Derailed the Islanders’ Season

Adam Pelech, New York Islanders

January 2, 2020, was supposed to be just another night with another game for the New York Islanders.

Looking back at it now, in the midst of the NHL’s shutdown due to the coronavirus, it was that evening that almost derailed the team’s season.

Set to host the lowly New Jersey Devils, the Isles announced just before puck drop that d-man Adam Pelech would not dress after suffering a lower-body injury. Rookie Noah Dobson was thrown in to take Pelech’s place, but questions began to arise as to how Pelech got hurt.

Did it happen in the game prior? During morning skate? At practice?

Nope.

Instead, it was rather the normal pre-game activity for all hockey players — two-touch soccer — where it was revealed Pelech tore his Achilles tendon.

Isles g.m. Lou Lamoriello made the announcement a day later, calling it a “freak accident.” Things only got worse from there. Lamoriello added that the 25-year-old would miss the rest of the season.

The severity of Pelech’s injury sent shockwaves through the organization and the fan base. The Isles, although they had lost to New Jersey the night prior, were still tied for second place in the Metropolitan Division and seemed to be primed for a second straight playoff appearance.

So, not only was the team losing a regular in the lineup, one of the top-four on defense, and their most steady and reliable blue-liner, but they were losing arguably their second-most valuable player behind center Mathew Barzal.

Pelech, before being sidelined, had evolved into one of the most underrated defensemen in the NHL dating back to last January. He came on incredibly strong in the second half of last season and did a tremendous job shutting down Sidney Crosby in the Isles’ first-round sweep of the Penguins. Pelech’s performance as a number-one D pushed head coach Barry Trotz to anoint him and Ryan Pulock as the club’s top-pair on defense.

Pelech’s absence definitely had a trickle-down effect on the entire team.

The Isles struggled mightily to keep the puck out of the net and keep a calmer demeanor in their own zone. Some of that blame can be placed on the goaltending and the forwards, but Pelech being 6’3 and close to 220 pounds provided a big body which was tasked with keying in on the opposition’s top players. He also knows how to slow the play down and not get rattled, which allows his team to regroup.

Those missing elements unquestionably played a factor in why the Isles were 10-12-7 without Pelech before the season was postponed. Pelech is so defensively responsible and plays incredibly well to Trotz’s system that replacing him was almost impossible.

Speaking of Trotz, he went on with the guys from Sportsnet’s Hockey Central late last week and revealed that he believes his team was hit with the “wrong injuries this year at the wrong times that didn’t allow us keep our head above water enough where we would be in a better situation.” You best believe he was referring to Pelech as well as the ones to Casey Cizikas, Johnny Boychuk, and Cal Clutterbuck.

This past Saturday would have marked the end of the regular season, with the playoffs set to begin tomorrow. There was no guarantee the Isles would have been starting their first-round series against whomever or watching from home. But they might have actually caught some luck with this extended break.

Pelech gave fans an update yesterday saying that his rehab is going well and that he’s going to be ready for training camp, whenever that may be.

That’s a great development for him and the organization. They’ll definitely need him, and they for sure were missing him since he got hurt.

Pelech’s season-ending setback had a major impact on the Islanders, but it could have been so much worse.

The Isles were very lucky it didn’t.

Anatoly Golyshev’s Intention to play for the Islanders comes at Good Time

The end of this month was supposed to see the New York Islanders welcome their most highly-touted Russian prospect in goaltender Ilya Sorokin.

But now, the organization might be getting a two-for-one special that could have an effect on their plans for two years from now.

This weekend, news broke that Anatoly Golyshev has intentions of making his way to North America to play for the Isles in 2021. And with that, the Isles are ensured some help at filling a few of their pressing needs for the future.

Selected 95th overall by the Islanders in the 2016 Draft, Golyshev has been playing in his homeland for Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg for the past four seasons. This past year, the 25-year-old posted 25 points in 38 games. Before that, Golyshev recorded 40 points in 54 games, second-most in his career thus far; his excellent campaign prompted Golyshev to sign a four-year extension to stay in the KHL.

The hope is that once he arrives, the Islanders will be getting that version of Golyshev, as well as the one they scouted a few years ago.

When the Islanders picked him, Golyshev had been a KHL All-Star in 2015-16. He was lighting it up as the top scorer for Avtomobilist (44 points in 56 games), leading them to the playoffs where Metallurg Magnitogorsk defeated them in six games in the Conference Quarterfinals.

It’s been hard to talk about a player like Golyshev because he’s in a league that doesn’t get the same attention in the States as the NHL does. Then again, the Islanders could definitely use a player of his status, even if it’s not for another year-plus.

 

The organization’s depth on the wings has been minimal recently behind Michael Dal Colle, Oliver Wahlstrom, Kieffer Bellows, and the now soon to be gone, Josh-Ho Sang. The lack of scoring and skill at the forward position is also where Golyshev could flex his muscles. Golyshev has proven already he comes with 20-plus goals, 40 to 50 point potential despite his size.

Also, with some of the organization’s more prominent forwards starting to get up there in age — Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle are 29, Josh Bailey is 30, Brock Nelson is 28 — Golyshev would bring an injection of youth up front.

The Islanders don’t have the greatest track record with Russian prospects (see Kirill Petrov), but Golyshev could change that dynamic. We saw it this year with 27-year-old Nikita Gusev that KHL imports just take some time to adjust.

Gusev started off this year with the hype train behind him and immediately struggled. He was healthy scratched a few times in the first half of the year. But, before the season was postponed, Gusev was succeeding as one of the Devils’ best forwards with 44 points.

Maybe that’s what’s to come for the Golyshev and the Islanders, minus the healthy scratches.

Right now, the Isles will have to wait a little bit longer to see if Golyshev will be a crucial piece to their future. But until then, Golyshev has made his intentions clear.

And that’s a good thing for the organization to look forward too.

 

Reliving the Magical Final Week of the Islanders’ 2006-07 Season

In the post-dynasty era of the New York Islanders, there was only a handful of memorable moments for the franchise.

There was the Easter Epic in 1987. The Magical run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1993. Shawn Bates’s penalty shot goal in the first round of the 2002 playoffs that shook the Coliseum to its core.

Then there was the last week of the ’06-07 season.

It was a culmination of a year-long battle for the organization.

Heading into that year, the Isles had missed the playoffs the season prior. That summer, former owner, the late Charles Wang, had hired Neil Smith to be the general manager and team legend Pat LaFontaine as a senior advisor. Smith’s tenure lasted just 41 days, as did LaFontaine’s. That episode brought upon a new sense of ridicule and embarrassment to the organization from hockey pundits. Wang then tabbed former goalie Garth Snow, who had been with the organization for several years and just recently retired, as Smith’s replacement.

Smith had already done a solid job re-tooling the Isles — signing veteran free agents Brendan Witt, Tom Poti, Mike Sillinger, and Chris Simon — before Snow added to the group with Richard Park, Andy Hilbert, Sean Hill, and Viktor Kozlov. The Islanders emerged a veteran-laided squad for head coach Ted Nolan when training camp arrived.

On to the season, where the Islanders got off to a rough start with a losing streak to begin the year. By December, they had found their footing enough to grab first place in the Atlantic Division. After claiming that spot, Snow got greedy.

He made two deals with the rival Flyers, acquiring d-man Freddy Meyer for forward Alexei Zhitnik, and forward Randy Robitaille for Mike York.

“That year was obviously one of my favorite,” Meyer told me in an interview I did with him over a year ago. “We had a lot of really good guys on that team. Not just playing wise, but also the veterans that made sure to stir the pot and get us going in the right direction.”

The short-term effect of both trades didn’t help the Isles, who went on another long losing streak at the end of December. After they found their footing again, the Islanders competed as a fringe playoff team.

Snow, again, made more deals.

Just prior to the trade deadline, he dealt Grebeshkov to the Oilers for hard-shooting blueliner Marc-Andre Bergeron. Then on deadline day, with the Isles sitting pretty in the sixth slot in the East, he traded for “Captain Canada”, Ryan Smyth.

Everything seemed to be set in place for the Islanders to make noise down the stretch. But, two incidents — Chris Simon’s controversial swinging of his stick at the Rangers’ Ryan Hollweg and star goalie Rick DiPietro getting concussed multiple times, most notably for being run over trying to play a loose puck in Montreal — predated that miraculous final week. To make things worse, backup goalie Mike Dunham was poor in relief of DiPietro and the Isles had lost three in a row, putting their season on life support.

Then an unknown third-string goalie by the name of Wade Dubielewicz came out of nowhere. Dubielewicz, 27, had been called up to replace Dunham back on March 15th but didn’t make an appearance until the Islanders’ 5-2 defeat to Ottawa in the fifth to last game of the year.

With four games left, the Isles found themselves four points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. It would be an arduous test if they wanted any shot at the postseason, as they would have to go through the hated Rangers, the on the fringe Maple Leafs, the lowly Flyers, and the already playoff-bound Devils.

April 3, 2007, the Islanders and Blueshirts squared off.

In a playoff-style affair, the Isles played well enough to get the game to a shootout. But they needed the second point desperately to keep pace with the Canadiens who won 2-0 that night over Boston. The shootout saw the beloved Miroslav Satan strike first for the Islanders. Dubielewicz then made a poke check on the Blueshirts’ Michael Nylander which would become his calling card not only that week but in Islanders lore. The legendary Jaromir Jagr was the Rangers’ last hope to extend the shootout.

Again, Dubielewicz went back to the well.

The Isles won the shootout and the game 3-2 and kept their playoff hopes alive.

Two nights later on April 5th against Toronto — who were three points ahead of the Isles and one point out of the eight spot — the Islanders were again in a dogfight. It was early in the third though where those wavering playoff hopes began to grow stronger.

Jason Blake would put the Isles ahead for good after breaking a 2-2 tie with his 40th goal of the season early in the frame. Aaron Asham and Satan added insurance goals and the Isles won 5-2, giving them points 87 and 88.

Now with a back-to-back weekend to end the regular season, two points separated the Isles and eighth place.

On Saturday, April 7th, the Isles went into Philadelphia for an afternoon matinee. They took nothing for chance with the Flyers, establishing a 3-0 lead midway through the second on goals by Satan, Alexei Yashin and Richard Park. Things got a little hairy with Philly making it 3-2 with a minute left in the game. But Satan, who was an unsung hero all season, hit the empty net to give the Islanders a decisive 4-2 victory.

Later that night, the Isles needed the Leafs to lose to Montreal to have any shot at making Sunday’s game in New Jersey meaningful.

“We actually had a team meal in New Jersey the night before that Sunday game to watch the Toronto-Montreal game,” Asham said for a piece I did with him last year. “We needed Toronto to lose. Watching that back and forth game, we found out that night that the next day was going to be do or die for us.”

Toronto would go on to win a wild affair 6-5 in what was their 82nd game of the season. At the end of the night, the standings read Toronto 91, Montreal 90, Islanders 90.

The Islanders’ destiny was in their own hands: Win and they’re in.

My family — mom, dad, older brother — made the trip for that Easter Sunday matinee in East Rutherford. My Dad had decided the day before, once they won in Philadelphia the day before, we had to be there.

And true to Howie Rose’s famous line after Richard Park scored the game’s first goal past Scott Clemmensen, “It’s Long Island south here in East Rutherford”, it truly was an Islander-heavy crowd.

Park would score again just before the eight-minute mark of the third period to make it 2-0 and the Islander contingent began to get louder and louder.

As the minutes waned down in the third, the entire building — and the Islanders bench — was a ball nervous energy.

The Devils would make it a one-goal game after John Madden scored with just under six minutes remaining in regulation. The score now 2-1, the Isles playoff aspirations came down to a frantic five minutes.

As the final seconds ticked down, the Devils were pressuring Dubielewicz and the Islanders furiously. With under a second remaining, Madden tucked home a rebound after Dubielewicz fell down and couldn’t get up.

Both the green light and red light both flashed.

The goal counted, and shock just rattled through Islanders country.

Well, it was on to overtime to decide the Isles’ season. The extra session was full of chances but no goals, meaning a shootout would decide the game.

Both teams scored in round one. Viktor Kozlov went for the Isles to start round two. He went five-hole on Clemmensen giving his team the lead in the shootout. That left Sergei Brylin against Dubielewicz.

Brylin came in on Dubielewicz, who once again went to his patented poke check.

The Islanders won the game and were in the playoffs in about as dramatic a fashion possible.

“For that next game to go to a shootout, and for Dubie (Wade Dubielwicz) to stand on his head, it was quite the experience,” Asham said.

“Individually, that was my first real taste of playoff hockey,” former Islander Jeff Tambellini noted in an interview I did with him. “I remembered before the season The Hockey News not having us in the playoffs and everybody in the room took it personally. Getting hot toward the end, and being able to jump in on those last couple of games, was awesome.

“That last game in New Jersey was the biggest game of my career to that point.”

That entire week still lives on 13 years later in the hearts of Islanders fans as one of the great moments in a decade that didn’t have many. Sadly it ended up also becoming the last competitive-wise for the organization and fans would see for another six years.

People will always remember those four games though.

The angst, chest-beating moments, and unfathomable finish. That was the last week of the 2006-2007 Islanders.

 

Looking Back at Semyon Varlamov’s First Season with the New York Islanders

Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders

Before the NHL season came to a screeching halt due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Semyon  Varlamov was nearing the conclusion of his first year with the New York Islanders.

Varlamov, who signed a four-year, $20 million contract last summer, had spent a majority of this season as a part of the 1A-1B duo with veteran Thomas Greiss.

The Islanders brought in Varlamov after they couldn’t come to terms with Masterton Winner and Vezina finalist, Robin Lehner.

G.M. Lou Lamoriello made it abundantly clear he was courting Varlamov’s services even before free agency last July. Multiple reports indicated that Lamoriello tried to trade for the 31-year-old at the draft in 2018.

When training camp began, there was a sense that Varlamov would be the unquestionable starter because of his contract and the fact the organization zeroed in on him to turn back to his elite status when he was one of the top goalies in the league.

Barry Trotz had other ideas. The Isles’s head coach believed that he could repeat his method of his goaltenders splitting games throughout the season. It was a smashing success this season prior, where the team was awarded the William M. Jennings Trophy.

Still, Varlamov himself knew he had big shoes to fill, and was more than ready for that battle.

“I just treat pressure as a privilege,” he told Newsday back in September. “I’ve played with the best players in the world, and I’m very happy to a part of that, part of this organization and part of this league. “The pressure has always been there. It’s going to be there every game. Every time you step on the ice you feel the pressure. I think you just need to know how to deal with the pressure. I think pressure brings the best out of you.”

Varlamov’s first appearances in blue and orange weren’t kind to him. His first three starts, he allowed eight goals on 84 shots against.

That third game though — a 3-2 shootout win over Florida and his first as an Islander — was the first time he looked comfortable.

Following that first victory, Varlamov settled in and started to play extremely well. From October 12th until November 23rd, the Russian netminder didn’t suffer a regulation loss. His excellent run, coupled with the Islanders going on an incredible 17-game point streak.

After the streak, the team began to slow down. But Varlamov was still putting up fantastic numbers through December and early January. He was still winning games, and a possible All-Star nomination was beginning to pick up steam. All that talk quickly dissolved when the Capitals’ Braden Holtby was selected as the goalie representative for the Metropolitan Division.

There was another slim chance he could be a reserve when Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo went down with an injury just weeks prior to the All-Star Game. Varlamov was again snubbed. Tristan Jarry, the standout rookie from the Penguins, was chosen instead.

Out of the break, Varlamov had been solid statistically — .907 save percentage in 14 games played — despite the Islanders free fall in the Metro. A 43-save performance in a 1-0 shutout loss in Vegas in February was probably one of his most impressive outings all year, if not his best.

When the season was shut down a few weeks back, Varlamov’s record through 45 games played was 19-14-6 with a 2.62 GAA, and .914 save percentage. The latter two numbers are towards the bottom of the league in that category.

Entering next season, Varlamov will most likely be the number one. Greiss is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and rumors have surfaced that his fellow countryman and friend, Ilya Sorokin, is Long Island-bound once the KHL lets their players be free to sign with NHL clubs on May 1st. Lamoriello has also been given every indication that will be what happens as well.

Even with that happening, Varlamov still had a quality first campaign with the Isles.

If the season was still going, he might have been one of the sole reasons — along with star center Mathew Barzal — for why the Islanders made the postseason for a second straight season.

 

 

Who is the Most Underrated Player of the Islanders’ Dynasty?

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.