A look at the New York Islanders’ All-Decade team for the 1980s.
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1980s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1980-81 and 1989-90) during the regular season. A complete list is available here.
Team: New York Islanders (1980-81 to 1989-90)
406-298-96, .568 WIN PCT, 3,204 GF vs. 2,762, +442 Diff, 9/10 Playoff Appearances, 3 Stanley Cups
The Islanders of the 1980s can be separated into two teams: the powerhouse that won the Stanley Cup from 1981-1983 and lost in the 1984 finals to the Edmonton Oilers, and the semi-competitive squad that won just two playoff series between 1985 and 1990. During the first four years of the decade, the Islanders had a record of 194-86-40 (66.9% win percentage) and a goal differential of +394. In the six seasons after Edmonton beat them for the 1984 Stanley Cup, the Islanders had a record of 212-212-56 with (50.0% win percentage) and a goal differential of +48. Quite the pivot point in the club’s fortunes; one, quite frankly, from which they never truly recovered (the team is moving to Brooklyn in the near future… and yet they will still be called the Islanders for some odd reason). Pivot point aside, the Islanders in the 1980s had a 56.8% win percentage, ranking 6th overall during the decade. Their offensive was the main driver of their success, ranking 4th and scoring an average of 4.01 goals per game. Their defense was also strong, allowing an average of 3.45 goals per game (ranked 6th). Their overall goal differential was +442, ranking 6th; they were won of just six teams +300 or better. Although they finished the decade on the way down (their only two sub-.500 seasons came in ’88-89 and ’89-90), they still won three Stanley Cups (plus another in 1979) and came within one playoff series of matching the Montreal Canadiens’ record of five consecutive Stanley Cup championships.
Left Wing: John Tonelli (444 GP, 175-269-444, +179, 380 PIM, 23 GWG)
In my opinion, Tonelli doesn’t get enough credit for his contributions to the Islanders’ dynasty. In six seasons with the Islanders during the 1980s, Tonelli had one 40-goal season and two other 30-goal seasons. He scored 60+ points five times, including 93 points in ’81-82 and 100 points in ’84-85. He was an impressive +21 or better five times as well, including twice in the +48-50 range. He didn’t appear to be a mainstay on the powerplay, only twice exceeding five PP goals. But 23 of his goals were game-winners, 13% of his total. And he played with enough of an edge to typically get 50-60 PIM per season (with a high of 95 in ’84-85).
Centre: Bryan Trottier (736 GP, 303-522-825, +255, 579 PIM, 37 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Pat LaFontaine
Poor LaFontaine; he was a rookie for the Islanders during the ’83-84 season (where they failed in their Drive for Five), and he rose to prominence as the team fell apart around him. LaFontaine broke out at the end of the decade, with three seasons in the 45-54 goal range and 88-105 point range. On many teams a stretch like that (plus three others just below the point-per-game mark) would qualify for the top spot. But the Islanders were blessed with Bryan Trottier. He played every year in the decade for the Isles, and was one of the best centres of his era. Three 100+ point seasons, and four others in the 82-96 point range. He scored 50 goals once, 40 goals on another occasion, and had four others of 30+. His production fell off badly in the final two years of the decade (69 points in 132 games, -18 rating) before he left for Pittsburgh, but that doesn’t diminish his contributions during his prime. He was +70 (!!!) on two occasions, with three others in the +29 to +49 range. He had four seasons with double-digits for powerplay goals, and chipped in 13 shorthanded markers (including five in ’84-85). And to top it all off, 12% of his goal total were game-winning goals (37). A class act and best-in-class talent.
Right Wing: Mike Bossy (524 GP, 400-417-817, +259, 167 PIM, 60 GWG)
Mike Bossy may have been the greatest pure goal-scorer in NHL history. And were it not for a back injury, he could have been much higher up the list for career goals scored. He played seven seasons for the Islanders during the 1980s. In the first six, he scored at least 51 goals each season, including three times eclipsing the 60-goal mark (with a high of 68 in ’80-81). He also had 100+ points in the first six seasons, with a high of 147 in ’81-82. He was double-digits in powerplay goals five times, twice hitting the 20-goal mark. In ’80-81, he had 28 PP goals alone. And the man was clutch; 60 goals were game-winning goals over those seven years, good for 15% of his 1980s total. He was also +27 or better six times, including twice in the +66 to +69 range. He eclipsed 300 shots on goal three times, and never posted less than 226 during the 80s. It’s a shame he had to retire early, but he was one of the best of all time, not just for his era.
Defense: Denis Potvin (562 GP, 147-361-508, +253, 690 PIM, 21 GWG)
Denis Potvin is another who gets serious consideration when talking about the best of all time at his position, not just for his era. He was a point-per-game threat from the blueline who was also defensively responsible, and willing to play a chippy/physical style. He scored 59+ points six times in eight seasons, including a high of 85 in ’83-84. He scored 20+ goals four times, and had 50+ assists four times. His physical play was evidenced by the fact that he never had less than 60 PIM in a season, including three in the 96-112 PIM range. He was always a threat on the powerplay posting 8+ PPG six times in eight seasons. And he was consistently firing in the vicinity of 200 shots on goal each season. Were it not for Ray Bourque all-around excellence and Paul Coffey’s offensive credentials, Potvin would get a lot more consideration as the best defensemen of the decade.
Defense: Tomas Jonsson (532 GP, 84-249-333, +78, 460 PIM, 12 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Ken Morrow and Stefan Persson
Ken Morrow and Stefan Persson were both excellent defenders for New York. In nine seasons for the Isles in the 1980s, Morrow was +18 or better five times (including +56 in ’81-82). He was a solid stay-at-home defender who never exceeded 19 points in a season. Persson played six seasons during the 80s, and had offensive flair: four seasons of 29+ points, including 61 in ’80-81. He was also +24 or better three times. But neither was as consistently excellent as Tomas Jonsson. Jonsson had a strong two-way game, never posting less than 31 points in a season (including five season of 44+ points). He had four seasons with double-digits in goals, and five with at least 30 assists. He also wasn’t a pushover, getting 50+ PIM six times. Additionally, 12 of his goals were game winning goals (14% of his total). While his +/- did dip negative three times, and his durability was an issue in two of his three final seasons, he was still a skilled two-way defender on one of the strongest teams of the decade.
Goalie: Billy Smith (343 GP, 167-117-38, 9 SO, 3.38 GAA, 0.886 PCT)
*NOTE: Save Percentage is from ’82-83 to ’88-89 only
Honourable Mention to Roland “Rollie” Melanson
“Rollie the Goalie” split the goaltending duties with Smith from ’81-82 to ’83-84, and he had fantastic numbers while doing so: 77-34-14 record with a 3.14 GAA during his time with the Islanders in the 80s, and a .902 save percentage over his final 2+ seasons. But Smith was The Man come playoff time, and he played most of the decade in New York. His numbers did slide as the team worsened, with a save percentage heading into the .850-.870 range and a GAA in the 3.40-3.50 range. But in his prime, Smith was one of the best money goalies of his era. From ’80-81 to ’83-84, Smith was 95-46-21 with five shut-outs and a 3.13 GAA. He was also known for being physical and even dirty if necessary, especially with his stick; he would likely be known as one of the angrier and more competitive goalies in NHL history were it not for Ron Hextall. Smith’s competitive fire and skill in the net was one of the key drivers behind the Islanders’ dynasty of the 1980s.