When the New York Islanders were in the midst of their Stanley Cup run in the early 1980s I was busy learning about the letter people and how to tie my shoes. My aunt and uncle had Islanders season tickets and a few times I was lucky enough to go to practices at Cantiague Park.
I watched Mike Bossy practice his wrist shot, Billy Smith work on his saves, and Clark Gillies perfect his death stare. I actually got to meet all of them and at the time, it was simply me meeting a bunch of tall, sweaty men.
Unfortunately I was too young to appreciate the moments that I would kill now to be able to do over. Those Islanders will always be grainy television clips and banners hanging in the rafters to me. As much as I respect the hell out of those guys, the Islanders as a team didn’t have my heart then.
But that all changed 20 years ago, when the NHL put forth a season that hasn’t been equaled since. The season of 1992-93.
David Volek. Dale Hunter. Mario Lemieux crying in his cup. The Islanders' memorable run to the Conference Finals was magical to Islanders Country and instrumental in cementing a whole new set of fans. But I was hooked on the Islanders and the NHL way before the playoffs ever started, hooked on a game that proved to be way less boring than many had sold to me in my younger years.
In '92-93, offense was king and players were scoring like never before. Maybe it was an omen, but only three weeks into the season prior, the Islanders completed a trade with the Buffalo Sabres that included Pat LaFontaine and Pierre Turgeon. In 92-93, those two players would combine for 111 goals and 285 points.
That year 21 players in the league reached the 100 point mark, 21 times the whopping one player who reached the 100-point mark this past season. In fact, only 30 players have reached the 100-point mark since 2000. The 21 players to reach 100 points in '92-93 was well above the previous high of 16 players set back in 1984-85.
Maybe more unbelievable was the amount of 50-goal scorers that year: 14 players topped the 50 goal mark, eclipsing the previous high of 10 in 1981-82. Since 1998-99, there have only been 23 combined 50 goal scores and no more than 5 in any season.
Matt Moulson’s team leading 36 goals would have been good for only 4th that year on the Islanders and a tie for 40th in the league. John Tavares’ 81 points, which tied for 7th in the NHL this past season, would have only been good for 50th place in the NHL in '92-93. Evgeni Malkin’s league best 109 points would have been topped by 13 other players that year.
The most impressive stat may be Felix Potvin and his league leading Goals Against Average. In 1992-93, Potvin had a league best 2.50 GAA. In 2011-12, that GAA would’ve been good for a pedestrian 24th place (3 spots ahead of Evgeni Nabokov and his 2.55 GAA).
The average total goals per game in the NHL was 7.25, compared to 5.47 this past season. The Isles averaged 7.52 total goals per game in 92-93, almost a full 2 goals over their 2011-12 average of 5.59.
Since that season, there have been a lot of changes in the NHL. Coincidentally (or not), Gary Bettman became NHL commissioner in February of 1993.The trap became prevalent in the late 90’s and goalie equipment began to grow. Rules began to change and the NHL saw not one, but two lockouts in the years following 1992-93.
Whatever the reason, offense has diminished and it has taken away from the game. There aren’t many people who love a 1-0 goalies duel. The NHL is better when NHLers are scoring.
While the Islanders' improbable run in the playoffs cemented me as an Isles fan for life, it was the bountiful offense of the 1992-93 season that entrenched me as a fan of hockey and the NHL. Someday in the future, it'd be nice to see that kind of offense return to NHL arenas, both for the sake of the fans and the sake of the game.