One of the things that Garth Snow doesn't get much credit for is his record finding obscure budget pieces that produce big. Guys like Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau came out of nowhere to have big seasons for the Islanders.
When it comes to such budget additions for the Mike Milbury Era Islanders, there's one name that comes to mind: Mark Lawrence. Lawrence is so relatively obscure today that there are barely any photos of him online. But for a short while, he was another "part of the future" for the Islanders.
Lawrence was drafted in the 6th round of the 1991 NHL Draft by the then-North Stars. He finished up his OHL career in 1991-92, posting 206 points in 236 games over four seasons. After a short stint in the ECHL (22 points in 22 games) he bounced around the IHL playing for the Kalamazoo Wings/Michigan K-Wings. While productive in the IHL, he only got two short stints for the by-then-Dallas Stars totaling 15 games in 1994-95 and 1995-96, producing 1 assist.
After the Stars signed a bunch of UFAs during the 1997 offseason, he decided to move on, and the hockey gods took him to Long Island.
He signed with the Islanders, most likely as a depth player for the 1997-98 season. Lawrence then showed up out of shape to camp and ended up on the IHL Utah Grizzlies. There he finished third in scoring for Utah, with 36 goals and 28 assists along with 102 PIM under Coach Butch Goring. Lawrence finished behind eternal Islanders prospect Kip Miller and 2nd-round bust Chris Taylor.
The 1998-99 Islanders
Mark Lawrence didn't make the team out of camp, playing 21 games with the Lowell Lock Monsters and putting up 16 points. Meanwhile, the team was a mess. Milbury decided to go all in for a playoff spot this season, trading Bryan Berard [here's Berard's Lost Milbury File] for Felix Potvin, and adding 13 players who played for a different team that year. Typical of these moves was Ted Donato, for whom Milbury traded Ken Belanger, then dealt Donato for a 4th rounder before the end of the season.
With people coming and going, it isn't surprising that Lawrence finally got another shot in the NHL this season. He made the most of it too, getting 14 goals and 16 assists in only 60 games. He was in the final year of his contract with the Islanders and was considered something of a hot free agent. But a loophole in the CBA meant that he was considered an RFA instead of a UFA, and he eventually signed a 2 year, $1.6-million deal.
The 1999-00 Islanders
With the Islanders having traded Ziggy Palffy during the offseason, Lawrence was considered one of the main cogs of the offense entering the season. The Islanders had also promoted Butch Goring, who had coached him to his best pro year with the Grizzlies in 1997-98, to head coach of the Islanders. From the Daily News coverage of the Islanders 1999 training camp:
In camp, Goring will be mixing lines like Julia Child mixes ingredients to find the right recipe. "We're counting on Olli Jokinen," Goring said. "Mark Lawrence got 14 goals for us last year, we'd like to see if he can get 30 this year." They'll be expecting top returning scorer, Mariusz Czerkawski (21 goals), to match that number.
And let's fast forward to Dec. 10 of the season and hear from Milbury himself:
"Well, I've lost it. We rewarded this guy with a nice two-year contract (worth a total of $1.6 million). Somewhere along the line, he's lost a passion. We can't take what we're getting from him right now."
Irony of course being that the only reason Lawrence signed with the Islanders rather than attract even more on the open market was because the CBA loophole made him an RFA. Why is Dec. 10 important? That was the day Lawrence was put on waivers, which he eventually cleared. He had 4 assists in 19 games and was a minus-11 at the time. He would play nine more games that season as a late callup, getting another goal and assist to close out the season.
Mark Lawrence finished the year with six points, behind such offensive powerhouses as Mike Watt (11 Pts, 45 GP) Dmitri Nabokov (11 Pts, 26 GP) Eric Cairns (9 Pts, 69 GP) Mathieu Biron (8 Pts, 60 GP). He was hardly ahead of guys like Chris Ferraro (4 Pts, 11 GP) and Jason Krog (6 Pts, 17 GP). Lawrence played another 36 games for the even worse 2000-01 team, getting 3 goals and 4 assists, putting him in illustrious company such as Juraj Kolnik and Aris Brimanis.
At the end of the season the Islanders let him walk.
He rejoined the Kalamazoo Wings following their move from the recently defunct IHL to the UHL. He signed on as a player/coach, but a serious knee injury kept him to only 38 games in 2001-02. He was productive in 2002-03, scoring 51 points in 69 games, but was a -28. He appears to have retired after the season, and I can't find anything on him since then.
A Flash In The Pan?
It's easy to write off Mark Lawrence as a flash in the pan who had one lucky season. But the Islanders 1999-00 roster was full of talented players who underperformed. Olli Jokinen had 21 points, Eric Brewer played all of 21 games, and Zdeno Chara was the world's tallest traffic cone, just to point to a few players. Milbury had a history of putting unrealistic expectations on players. As so many who left the Islanders during Milbury's reign of terror went on to much greater heights, you have to wonder if the talent was there for Lawrence, and it was Milbury's wonderful control of psychology which doomed him.