There’s one trade that some New York Islanders fans earmark as the worst ever made by the franchise, and rightfully so. And it all started with dumping a goalie to the Vancouver Canucks.
When the New York Islanders acquired Felix Potvin from Toronto in January of 1999, they were hoping to get a reliable NHL backup to help Tommy Salo. Little did they know his trade would lead to a dark period in Islanders history.
Oh. He also probably didn’t know that the Islanders and then Super Genius/General Manager Mike Milbury would trade Tommy Salo to the Edmonton Oilers just two months later.
It’s not like Felix the Cat was a hot-shot goalie in his own right. In the season before coming to the Islanders, 1997-98, Potvin had a 2.73 GAA and a .906%. Absolutely average, if not slightly below league average.
After 33 games between his eleven months and a 3.44GAA and .893SV% as an Islander, Potvin was traded out to the Vancouver Canucks for another goalie and a few spare parts.
The First Trade
Not much of note here. The Isles send their slumping backup for the Canucks. The Isles acquired NHL depth players Bill Mukalt and Dave Scatchard. Of the two Scatchard was the only to have any legitimate success, putting up two 45 point season while wearing the Blue and Orange. If 45 points can be considered success.
Muckalt put up 33 points in 72 games as an Islander before he was packaged out to the Ottawa Senators in 2001. And before the Isles welcomed Alexei Yashin to town
On June 23rd, 2001, the infinite genius of Mike Milbury sent the previously acquired Bill Mukalt to the Ottawa Senators alongside a then 24-year-old 6’9″ man-mountain Zdeno Chara and the Isles first overall pick in that year’s draft which the Senators used on Jason Spezza. A young 17-year-old from Toronto who put up 116 points in 56 OHL games in his draft year.
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What the Senators got in that trade is a future Hall of Fame defenceman who put up 146 points and a +109 rating in four years with Ottawa. And an elite level center who put up 687 points in 686 games with the Senators…and Bill Mukalt.
The Senators went on to an Eastern Conference Finals and a Stanley Cup final with Chara and Spezza, and just the later between 2001 and 2007.
With Yashin, who mind you put up 290 points in 346 games as an Islanders, helped the Islanders make the playoff four out of five years between 2001 and 2007. Albeit they got bounced in the first round every time.
That 2007 season was coincidentally Yashin’s last season in the NHL, as the Islanders bought out his crazy ten-year $87.5 million dollar contract. A buyout the Islanders just finished paying in 2015.
Going down the tree from the initial Felix Potvin trade the Islanders had nothing to show. After holding on to Kevin Weekes for the season, the Islanders shipped him out to Tampa along with the Isles second round pick in 2000 and the rights to Kristian Kudroc.
In return, the Islanders got Tampa’s first round, fourth round, and seventh round pick in the 2000 draft. Which they used to select future Department of Player Saftey Hall of Famer and walking suspension Raffi Torres, Vladimir Gorbunov, and Ryan Caldwell.
Caldwell played four NHL games in his entire career and left the Islanders in a trade for current Sound Tigers Assistant coach Eric Boguniecki. So, that ends that branch.
The same goes for Gorbunov. Who never actually came to North America. Instead preferring to stay in his native Russia. Shades of Ilya Sorokin, I hope not.
The End of the Tree
Torres played a total of 31 games for the Islanders scoring an incredibly underwhelming six points before he too was shipped out of town. Packaged with Brad Isbister, Torres fetched Janne Niinimaa and two picks in the 2003 draft; a second and fourth round.
The two picks were used on Evgeny Tunik, who actually did come to North America in 2005! Yay! But was terrible, putting up 18 points in 61 games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He returned to Russia at the end of the season.
Tragically, Stefan Blaho, the Islanders 2003 fourth round pick died in a car accident in 2006. He never got to play in the NHL. It’s a somber note, I know.
Niinimaa had thrice eclipsed the 40 point plateau before coming to the Islanders. So the upside was there. But in one full season and parts of two others, Niinimaa recorded just 44 points in 136 games. A far, far cry from what he was capable and what the Islanders thought they might be getting.
Erskine did very little for the Islanders. Recording a single goal in 34 games and going -12. The Isles let him walk as a free agent that summer.
Joensuu had a decent time in Bridgeport, recording 111 points in 175 games. But just couldn’t replicate that at the NHL level with 15 points in 67 games. So, the Islanders let him walk at the end of his contract. Ending the tree that started back with Felix Potvin.
In one single trade, the Islanders made sure to dump a one-of-kind defenceman and the chance to draft a point-per-game dynamic center. For Alexei Yashin. From there the Islanders spiraled trading pieces at will but never getting what they lost, no even close. The Isles still made the playoffs in a few years with Yashin, but the “what could have been” with Spezza and Chara wearing Blue and Orange is overwhelming.