A look at the New York Islanders’ All-Decade team for the 1990s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s. 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 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.
Team: New York Islanders (1990-91 to 1999-00)
279-410-97, .417 WIN PCT, 2,326 GF vs. 2,617 GA, -291 Diff, 2/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
The New York Islanders went through the 1980s a powerhouse and a dynasty… and they went through the 1990s as the league’s whipping boy. They had one .500 season, and one 40-win (.518 PCT) season in ’92-93. Otherwise, every year was below .500. In fact, they had five seasons below .400, bottoming out with three 50-point seasons in a five-year span. They made the playoffs just twice: they had a great run to the Conference Finals in 1993, and lost in the first round in 1994. And as of the end of the 2012-13 season, their second-round victory over Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1993 remains their most recent playoff victory. Since then they have made the playoffs just six times in 19 years, and lost in the first round all six times (their best performance being a seven-game loss to the Maple Leafs in 2002). No wonder the team is moving to Brooklyn… they’ve killed their fan base. No fans should be expected to root for a team with such extensive mediocrity. The Islanders sound slightly better than they were: their win percentage of 41.7% ranked 23rd out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s. But the sad truth is the three teams behind them were expansion teams (San Ottawa, San Jose and Tampa Bay). The Islanders the worst non-expansion team in the NHL by a fairly wide margin: the next-worst team (Carolina/Hartford) had a 44.4% win percentage. The Islanders lost a staggering 410 out of 786 games: San Jose lost 399, but played one less season than New York. The Islanders stunk at both ends of the ice. Their offense averaged 2.96 goals for per game, ranking 20th during the decade. And their defense allowed 3.33 goals against per game, ranked 23rd. Ultimately their goal differential of -291 ranked 22nd, and was only marginally better than the Hurricanes/Whalers’ -296 (saving them the distinction of being the worst non-expansion team for goal differential as well). It must have been tough watching the Islanders slide further and further into mediocrity as the glory days of the early 1980s became a more and more distant memory. And to add insult to injury, the team is moving to Brooklyn in the near future… and yet they’ll still be called the Islanders.
Left Wing: Benoit Hogue (258 GP, 105-124-229, +36, 282 PIM, 14 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Derek King
Benoit Hogue came over as part of the blockbuster Pat LaFontaine-Pierre Turgeon trade with the Buffalo Sabres, and Hogue was arguably the third-best player in a deal that involved seven players (not bad at all). Hogue immediately fit in on the left wing for the Isles, contributing three straight 30+ goal seasons (two 75-point efforts and a 69-point season in 93-94). He also scored 22 powerplay and an impressive 13 game-winning goals during this time, but his +/- fell from +30 to +13 to -7. He slumped badly in ’94-95, scoring just 6 goals and 10 points in 33 games before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Whatever happened to him in ’94-95, it killed his effectiveness as an NHL player: he never again scored more than 19 goals or 43 points in an NHL season. But three straight 30-goal seasons, with 13% of his goals counting for game-winning goals, is pretty solid. He also had a bit of a mean streak: he had three straight seasons of at least 67 PIM, including 108 in ’92-93. Honourable mention to Derek King, who spent seven years with New York. He had three straight seasons of 30+ goal seasons (with a high of 40 in ’91-92) and 70+ points. But his other four seasons were much weaker, he was heavily dependent on the powerplay (72 of his 172 goals came with the man advantage), and he was -16 (he was positive for +/- just twice in seven seasons), so Hogue gets the nod.
Centre: Pierre Turgeon (255 GP, 147-193-340, +9, 70 PIM, 24 GWG)
Pierre Turgeon had the misfortune of being Pat LaFontaine’s replacement, but he managed to post some great numbers and was a fantastic player for the Islanders. He scored 38 goals and 87 points in 69 games after coming over from Buffalo. He then exploded for 58 goals and 132 points in ’92-93, but unfortunately missed part of the ’93-94 with (if memory serves) complications from injuries suffered in an infamous cheap shot by Dale Hunter in the 1993 playoffs. But even with missed time, he still had a 38-goal, 94-point season in ’93-94. He slowed as the team struggled in ’94-95, scoring 27 points in 34 games before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens in a deal that netted Kirk Muller for the Islanders… who was soon traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a deal that ended the Islanders’ run of top-notch centres on their first line. Turgeon scored 50 powerplay markers, including an impressive 24 PPG in ’92-93 alone. He also had 24 game-winning goals, 16% of his total. He had a fantastic year in ’92-93, scoring 10 game-winners alone: meaning one-quarter of the team’s 40 wins came as a result of Turgeon’s goal. Turgeon wasn’t physical (never more than 26 PIM in a season), but he played an exciting and clean game: he won the Lady Byng as the league’s most gentlemanly player in 1993. He also represented the Islanders at the 1993 and 1994 All-Star games. Turgeon was always a threat on the ice, and he fired an incredible 555 shots on goal between ’92-93 and ’93-94. His +/- was up-and-down (+8, -1, +14 and -12), but he was a consistent scorer who was always dangerous (even on the penalty kill, where he scored 6 SHG). Turgeon was a class act and a fun player to watch.
Right Wing: Zigmund “Ziggy” Palffy (331 GP, 168-163-331, -7, 173 PIM, 19 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Steve Thomas.
Palffy is the only positional player on this list who played for the Islanders after 1995. He had 5-game audition in ’93-94 (0 points), and a decent 10-goal, 17-point showing in ’94-95. Then he hit his stride as the team’s offensive star. From ’95-96 to ’97-98, he had three straight seasons of 43-48 goals and 87-90 points. During that stretch he had 40 powerplay goals, 7 shorthanded goals and 17 game-winning goals. He played just 50 games in ’98-99; he held out, and didn’t sign a deal until December 1998. But he still managed to score 22 goals and 50 points. He was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings in the offseason in a fairly blatant salary dump. Palffy ended his tenure with a -7 rating overall: he had one good year (+21) and one bad year (-17), and his three other full seasons were all in the -6 to +3 range (not bad considering how terrible the team was). He fired 250+ shots on goal three times, with a high of 292 in ’96-97. He wasn’t an overly physical player, never posting more than 56 PIM in a season. But he was exciting and able to play on all special teams: 46 PPG, 9 SHG. Also, his 19 game-winning goals accounted for 11% of his total. Impressive considering how bad the teams he played on were. Plus he was one of the lone bright spots for the team offensively during the late 1990s, especially with that glorious mullet.
Honourable mention to Steve Thomas; “Stumpy” had three seasons of 70+ points, including a high of 87 in ’92-93. He also improved his goal totals three straight seasons from 28 to 37 to 42 from ’91-92 to ’93-94. He slumped in ’94-95, finishing with 26 points in 47 games before being dealt to New Jersey in a three-way deal that brought Wendel Clark to the Islanders. But Palffy had better totals with weaker linemates, so Ziggy gets the spot on the list.
Defense: Vladimir Malakhov (166 GP, 27-98-125, +42, 171 PIM, 2 GWG)
Vladimir Malakhov spent just two-and-a-half seasons with the Islanders, but he was incredibly productive during that time. He made the NHL All-Rookie team in 1993 on the strength of a 14-goal, 52-point effort (in just 64 games) and +14 rating. He followed that up with a strong 10-goal, 57-point season with a +29 rating in ’93-94. He was struggling but still performing somewhat well in ’94-95, scoring 16 points along with a -1 rating in 26 games before he was traded to Montreal in the Turgeon-Muller deal. Malakhov was strong with the man advantage, scoring 12 of his 27 goals on the powerplay. He also appeared to be developing an edge to his play: he went from 59 PIM in ’92-93 to 80 PIM in ’93-94. Coupled with his ability to put pucks on net (178 in ’92-93, 235 in ’93-94) and you have a fantastic young offensive defenseman who deserves his spot on this list.
Defense: Uwe Krupp (180 GP, 22-72-94, +30, 140 PIM, 2 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Tom Kurvers
Tom Kurvers (who gets an honourable mention here) seems to get a lot of flack (largely from Leafs’ fans still bitter about New Jersey fleecing the Leafs for a 1st round pick, which became Scott Niedermayer, in exchange for Kurvers). However, Kurvers was a quality offensive defenseman: he scored 56 points in ’91-92, 38 points in 55 games in ’92-93 and 40 points in 66 games in ’93-94. He also had a positive +/- twice in three seasons (-2 overall) and 14 powerplay goals. But Uwe Krupp, while not as adept at playing the puck, provided the Islanders with massive physical presence and a fair amount of offensive skill. After coming over with Hogue and Turgeon from Buffalo, Krupp scored 35 points in 59 games. He followed that up with 38 points in 80 games in ’92-93, and then 21 points in 41 games during a (presumably injury-)shortened ’93-94 season. He had a positive +/- each year between +6 and +13, and was +30 overall. He was physical, but disciplined: he had 140 PIM total, and never more than 67 in a single season. Considering his size (6’6”, 235 pounds), that combination of offensive skill and defensive prowess is quite impressive.
Goalie: Tommy Salo (187 GP, 62-94-21, 14 SO, 2.77 GAA, 0.902 PCT)
It frightens me a little to say this… but I wonder just how bad the Islanders would have been without Tommy Salo in net. I’m thinking late 80s/early 90s Quebec Nordiques bad. Salo had an inauspicious start as the Isles’ backup, going 2-12-1 between ’94-95 and ’95-96. But from ’96-97 to ’98-99 he was a solid goaltender for them. His record wasn’t great, but it could have been much worse: he was 60-82-20, but he somehow managed 14 shut-outs. So in nearly one-quarter of his victories, he had to allow zero goals to get the win. He also had a solid 2.69 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage. I don’t know why Mike Milbury felt compelled to make this man cry at his arbitration hearing… Salo was pretty much the team’s MVP in the late 1990s. He was traded to the Edmonton Oilers prior at the 1999 Entry Draft, but his three-year run for the Isles was solid, especially considering the quality of his supporting cast.