Throughout his tenure as general manager of the NY Islanders, Mike Milbury was highly scrutinized for his decisions while in charge of the organization. Trading away future stars like Roberto Luongo and Zdeno Chara still resonates with the fan base today. One move which Milbury cannot receive any flack for is his acquisition of Mariusz Czerkawski.
Prior to the 1997-98 season, Milbury and the Islanders acquired Czerkawski from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Dan LaCouture. Czerkawski was a former fifth-round pick of the Boston Bruins in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. After spending only a season and a half in Boston, he was shipped to Edmonton.
"I think he is an immediate player for the team. He can step right into our first two lines."- Mike Milbury
In his second season in Edmonton, Czerkawski had his best season at that point in his career, scoring 26 goals and 21 assists. The following season he suited up for a different shade of blue and orange (and teal) as he was off to continue his career on Long Island.
Once with the Islanders, the Radomsko, Poland native, took a few seasons to settle in playing at the Nassau Coliseum. He failed to reach the 40-point mark in his first two seasons but had his coming-out party during his third season finishing with 70 points (35 goals and 35 assists), earning himself a spot in the All-Star Game.
During his five seasons on Long Island, Czerkawski totaled 120 goals and 126 assists. In two of those seasons ( 99-00 and 00-01), he would lead the team in points, including the 99-00 season, where he finished with 28 more points than the second leading point scorer, Brad Isbister.
Following a 51-point season in 2001-01, Czerkawski was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Aaron Asham and a fifth-round pick. He went on to have one of the worst statistical seasons of his career finishing with five goals and nine assists while appearing in only 43 games. He was demoted to the Canadiens AHL affiliate in Hamilton before having his contract bought out by the team.
The following season Czerkawski made his return to Long Island, signing a one-year deal. He found himself on a line alongside Alexei Yashin, where he did not disappoint. Without missing a beat, Czerkawski returned to his old form, similar to his previous stint with the Isles scoring 25 goals and adding 24 assists, all while helping the Isles to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, it would be his final go-around with the Isles as he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the offseason.
As for the player Czerkawski was traded for, LaCouture made a decent career for himself after being drafted 29th overall by the Islanders in 1991. He appeared in 337 games over 11 seasons with six different teams. LaCouture spent most of his career on the fourth line as an enforcer finishing his career with only 45 points (20 goals, 25 assists).
In 2014, five seasons after his final NHL game, LaCouture was part of a group of former players who sued the NHL. The group sued on the terms of the league's failure to warn players of the risks and consequences of head trauma. In 2018, the league reached a settlement with the players in the lawsuit.
Through the trials and tribulations the Islanders experienced during the 90s and 2000s, Czerkawski was one of the bright spots for the organization. Along with Zigmund Palffy and Yashin, he was one of the few forwards to stand out, which is likely why he is still an adored member of the franchise even 18 years after his final appearance.