When the Islanders advanced to the Wales Conference Finals in 1993, it was the first time that the Islanders had been in the playoffs in three years and it was also the first time since 1984 that they had gone that deep in the playoffs. That prompted management to adopt “The Best Time In A Long Time” as the marketing slogan for the following season.
It didn’t go well.
General Manager Don Maloney let goalie Glenn Healy go in the expansion draft and traded for Ron Hextall.
Healy wound up as a backup with the Rangers who swept the Islanders in the first round and wound up winning the Stanley Cup.
(A ticket stub from the 93-94 Islanders season with the slogan “The Best Time In A Long Time”)
Not exactly “The Best Time In A Long Time” for the Islanders and things would only get worse like trading away Pierre Turgeon in a deal where they acquired Kirk Muller, a player who had no interest in being an Islander. Then came the fisherman logo, Mike Milbury, John Spano, new owners who claimed the scoreboard at the Nassau Coliseum was falling, the failed Lighthouse project, Garth Snow, a failed referendum for a new arena, the move to Brooklyn, and the exodus of John Tavares.
Did I cover everything there?
Well, fast forward 27 years from that loss to Montreal and there’s no argument that right now is “The Best Time In A Long Time” for the Islanders, even as the wound is still healing from the overtime loss to Tampa Bay in game six of the Eastern Conference Final that ended the Islanders season.
The loss is going to sting for a while, but the Islanders took a major step forward after losing in the second round of the playoffs last year.
“Obviously, it’s very special to get this far in the playoffs,” said defenseman Nick Leddy. “It’s one of the hardest trophies to win if not the hardest. To be one of the final four is really special.”
But while the Islanders came oh so close to going to the Stanley Cup Final, this should not be viewed as the end for the Islanders but rather just the beginning. That 1993 team was broken up quickly and lost the momentum of the magic run to the conference final. But the current Islanders are in a different situation and they are now in a position to be a playoff contender for years to come.
Could that happen?
“I don’t see why not,” said Captain Anders Lee. “I can’t speak volumes more about this group and our guys and the pride we take going out there every night and playing.”
27 years after the last trip to the conference final, the Islanders are in a position that they haven’t been in for years. They have strong ownership in Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky, the 2019-2020 General Manager of the Year in Hall of Famer Lou Lamoriello, and Stanley Cup winning Head Coach Barry Trotz who won the Jack Adams Award last season as NHL coach of the year, his first season with the Islanders.
There’s a talented roster that includes Captain Anders Lee, Mat Barzal, JG Pageau, Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, and Semyon Varlamov. Throw in developing young players like defenseman Noah Dobson who made his NHL playoff debut in game six against Tampa Bay, forward Oliver Wahlstrom, and incoming Russian netminder Ilya Sorkin who was with the Islanders in the bubble and you have an organization that is in position to do some great things, especially with their new home UBS Arena at Belmont Park set to open for the 2021-22 season.
“Organizationally, it’s really important to see what’s happening on the island,” said Trotz. “The change obviously with Lou coming in, the facilities, what the island is all about, the excitement of the new Belmont permanent home for us, the type of character that represents the Islanders, just a lot of good things.”
Under the previous regime, the Islanders made the playoffs in 2013 and lost to the Penguins in the opening round four games to two. Two years later, the “final year” of the Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders were back in the postseason but lost to the Capitals in seven games. The following year, the first season in Brooklyn, the Islanders won their opening round series against Florida before losing to Tampa Bay in round two.
The goal has always been to win, but now it’s more than just a goal. Going forward, with Lou and Barry at the helm, it certainly feels like winning championships is going to be the mission statement.
“The bar has always been set high,” said Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield, a second-round pick in 2011 that has seen the ups and downs over the years.
“There’s been some tough times but with the staff we have here and the ownership we have here, it’s I think turned the corner. We showed that last year in the playoffs getting to the second round and this year getting to the conference finals. It hurts now but it’s trending in the right direction.”
The Islanders began play in the National Hockey League in 1972 but they began to trend in the right direction during the 1974-75 season. Under the guidance of General Manager Bill Torrey and Head Coach Al Arbour, the Islanders made the playoffs for the first time in 1975 and promptly being the Rangers in the preliminary round with J.P. Parise scoring the overtime goal in the decisive third game at Madison Square Garden. Then, in the quarterfinals, the Islanders came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games.
By the 1977-78 season, the Islanders seemed to be ready to win it all, but Lanny McDonald’s overtime goal in game seven of the quarterfinals at Nassau Coliseum lifted the Toronto Maple Leafs past the Islanders in a stunning upset. During the 1978-79 season, the Islanders had the best record in the NHL, but lost to the Rangers four games to two in the semifinals when goalie John Davidson stood on his head.
Those were bitter pills to swallow, but a championship doesn’t come overnight. It can take some time and for the Islanders, despite what was a subpar regular season in 1979-80, it all came together that season in the playoffs.
“There’s very few teams in any sport that have put the group together and they’ve won a championship right away without maybe a little bit of failure on the way,” said Trotz. “You look at the dynasty of the Islanders when they won the four straight (Stanley Cups). There was a lot of hardship on the front end. I just came from my former club that had a lot of heartbreak before we broke through so there’s a lot of lessons on the way in understanding those lessons and being able to deal with them. Those are invaluable for organizations and individuals in your organization.”
And as painful as it was to come up short this season in the Eastern Conference Final, it could very well serve as a lesson learned, a bump in the road, or just another step to climb in this group eventually bringing Lord Stanley back to Long Island. There’s no doubt that the roster needs some tweaking including the addition of a big-time goal scorer that could help the struggling power play and there are decisions that have to be made on some key free agents, both restricted and unrestricted.
But unlike 1993, there is a regime in place that Islanders fans can trust as the team begins an off-season to prepare for the 2020-21 campaign, whenever that begins.
For the Islanders, this truly is “The Best Time In A Long Time”.