After 27 long, difficult years, the New York Islanders are headed to the Eastern Conference Final to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Watching the time tick away in the final moments of Game 7 had me reflecting on my New York Islanders fandom. I’m 25 years old, for as long as I’ve been alive the Islanders haven’t made it to the Conference Final.
For fans around my age, our greatest accomplishment was beating Florida to advance in the playoffs for the first time in 23 years. Now, a trip to the Conference Final for the first time in 27 years is the new king, but how did we get here?
It’s been a long trip for Islanders fans, and I wanted to take a look at what happened to this franchise over the 27 year period before making it the Conference final again.
After upsetting the two-time defending champion Penguins in the second round, the Islanders lost in five games to the Canadiens to end their season in 1993 in the Conference Final. The following year they would make the playoffs but they’d get swept by the Rangers who went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Losing to the Rangers and watching them win a cup for the first time since 1940 is the beginning of the suffering for Islanders fans. After the 1994 season, Al Arbour retired and Lorne Henning took over behind the bench.
Henning lasted just one year as the team went 15-28-5 in a 48 game season and the Islanders traded their best player, Pierre Turgeon for Craig Darby, Kirk Muller, and Mathieu Schneider. Muller, infamously did not want to be an Islander and only played 27 games over two years.
In 1995-1996, the Islanders entered the Mike Milbury era. As a head coach, he was brutal as he finished with a .356 points percentage over parts of four seasons behind the bench. He was worse as a GM as we all know.
We had the fisherman rebrand, which now people have come around on but at the time it was awful, and then someone by the name of John Spano tried to buy the Islanders. Spano somehow only had $5 million as his net worth.
He wasn’t paying, he lied on his resume, and the deal eventually fell apart but not before the team became a laughing stock in the sports world. Eventually, Charles Wang would buy the team in 2001.
All while this was going on behind the scenes Mike Milbury was ruining the team. He traded away Olli Jokinen, Roberto Luongo, and Zdeno Chara who would infamously go on to have Hall of Fame caliber careers as the Islanders struggled.
After seven years of missing the playoffs, the Islanders returned in 2002, but lost a tough seven-game series to Toronto with Peter Laviolette behind the bench. Laviolette would make the playoffs the following year as well, but they would lose again in the first round and Milbury pulled the plug.
Laviolette would go on to coach the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006, the Flyers to the final in 2010, and the Predators to the final in 2017. He got three different franchises to the Cup final, while the Islanders were still trying to figure out how to get out of the first round.
After the 2005-2006 season, the Islanders were moving on from Milbury (finally) and they hired Neil Smith to be the GM. After 40 days, Smith was fired because he didn’t want to work in a “management by committee” style and he pulled Garth Snow from his backup goalie spot to be the GM.
That’s still insane to type out. Snow literally went from backup goalie for the team to GM overnight, that’s unreal.
I should mention that while all of this was going on, Wang was trying to get his Lighthouse Project going. He wanted to develop the area around the Coliseum and build a new arena but Nassau County wouldn’t go for it.
Snow’s Islanders actually made the playoffs in 2007 but they got bounced in the first round and would go through a five year rebuilding period. Over that time the Islanders had multiple high end first-round picks, and landed John Tavares.
They also missed on the likes of Nino Niederreiter (giving up on him at 19 years old), Ryan Strome, Griffin Reinhart, and Michael Dal Colle later.
There would be a four-year run where the Islanders made the playoffs in three of those years. They lost a heart breaker in 2014-2015 to Barry Trotz and the Capitals in Game 7, which by the way was the final season at the Nassau Coliseum.
The Islanders were never able to get anything done with the arena, for numerous reasons, and were forced to move to the Barclays Center which was an utter disaster.
In 2016 the streak finally came to an end. The Islanders advanced to the second round for the first time in 23 years. They regressed hard the next year and they moved on from Jack Capuano, who was rumored to be living in Garth Snow’s basement, after a 17-17-8 start.
Doug Weight came in and the Isles nearly fought all the way back into a playoff spot.
In December of 2017, it was announced that the Islanders won a bid at Belmont Park to develop an arena. This was huge for the Islanders who for the better part of two decades had major arena issues. Ledecky and Malkin’s first win as an Islander.
With expectations high in 2017-2018, they flopped hard finishing in seventh place in the division.
This was the first big test for Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin who took over the team in 2016 from Charles Wang. Well, the stars aligned and everything began to change. They hired Lou Lamoriello as President of Hockey Operations.
He made himself GM, kicked Garth Snow to the curb after 12 long years of mediocrity, and then the unthinkable happened. Barry Trotz, fresh off a Stanley Cup, became available and the Islanders hired him.
They were riding high, and then one last awful kick in the genitals happened. John Tavares, the franchise, decided to leave and go home to Toronto. Islanders fans were rightfully hurt and the pundits predicted the Isles to be awful in 2018-2019, well they weren’t.
Off the ice, they were able to get games back at the Coliseum splitting time between two arenas. On the ice, they made the playoffs with a 103 point season, and swept the Penguins in round one before bowing out to Carolina.
In year two under Lamoriello and Trotz, the Isles had a 17 game point streak, traded for and extended J.G. Pageau and made it to the playoff tournament. They ran through Florida and Washington in impressive fashion and now, after an impressive seven-game series against Philly, find themselves in the Conference final.
That’s 27 years of Islanders fandom. Awful trades, bad ownership, arena drama, franchise cornerstones leaving, it was really really rough. Now, there’s hope again.
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A new arena on the way, great ownership, a Hall of Fame GM, and the best coach in the league. The Islanders are one of four teams remaining and have as good a shot as any to win the cup. Enjoy this Islanders fans, we deserve this.