20 Years after NHL 94: Islanders survive, revive

"Will you guys sign my NHL 94?" - Bruce Bennett

Nothing makes a hockey debate like nostalgia and someone grousing about how much better things were back in the day. While that might not apply to video games -- as great as the early NHLPA 93 - NHL 95 games were, video game technology has come a looong way -- it's still an excuse to compare things from 20 years ago.

EA Sports is doing a little bit of that with their "NHL 94 Anniversary Mode," designed to highlight a fondly recalled point in the series and maybe even win back lost souls like myself who were fine with just four buttons, thanks.

For Islanders fans, one memorable feature about NHL 94 was how good and speedy the team's top line was in the game, coming off the Islanders' surprising 1993 run to the Wales Conference final.

How would the Islanders of today measure up to that squad?

Well, for one we have the benefit of hindsight, where we can declare that Islanders squad was on the verge of being destroyed -- first by Don Maloney's trade of Pierre Turgeon for Kirk Muller, and then by the horrifying criminal ownerships and mismanagement that defined the Mike Milbury era.

Meanwhile, today it's as if the Islanders have survived that dark wilderness and finally emerged alive and ready to thrive. While the Islanders had several playoff appearances in the first decade of the 2000s, they had a certain feeling of treading water. Today the cupboard is restocked, and you can imagine that the Islanders lineup of the next few years would blow this one out of the water:

# Forwards Rating
77 Pierre Turgeon* 82
33 Benoit Hogue* 78
32 Steve Thomas* 72
27 Derek King 64
20 Ray Ferraro 63
26 Patrick Flatley 62
25 Dave Volek 60
16 Brian Mullen 59
18 Marty McInnis 54
10 Claude Loiselle 48
14 Tom Fitzgerald 47
17 Dan Marois 47
39 Travis Green 47
15 Brad Dalgarno 46
12 Mick Vukota 40
# Defensemen Rating
23 Vladimir Malakhov* 63
28 Tom Kurvers 59
11 Darius Kasparaitis* 57
8 Jeff Norton 56
4 Uwe Krupp 53
7 Scott Lachance 53
47 Richard Pilon 46
37 Dennis Vaske 38
# Goalies Rating
35 Glenn Healy* 47
30 Mark Fitzpatrick 45

That's the NHL 94 Isles roster along with their player ratings in the video game, according to nhl94.com.

Today?

  • John Tavares tops Pierre Turgeon, even during Turgeon's peak.
  • Matt Moulson matches and arguably exceeds Steve Thomas (who was still putting up 30-goal seasons).
  • If Michael Grabner is a parallel to speedy Benoit Hogue, he's better than Hogue and yet the Islanders can afford to use him on the 2nd or 3rd line. (And yet, Hogue scored 36 goals in 1993-94; it's always tough comparing these eras because of how high scoring the '80s and early '90s were.)
  • Ray Ferarro was a much better goal scorer than Frans Nielsen is, though Nielsen may have him on the defensive side of the game.
  • Derek King had his last 30-goal season in 1993-94, as his decline was about to set in. No real parallel on today's Islanders, but Kyle Okposo -- who should still be getting better -- is in a similar slot today albeit on the opposite wing.
  • On defense: Lubomir Visnovsky could be your Malakhov, Matt Donovan bidding to be the Jeff Norton (who, though on the NHL94 roster, had actually been traded over the summer for some reason).
  • Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald could be your ... Kasparaitis and Krupp. Truth be told, the former two have no exact present parallel, nor does Rich Pilon.
  • In goal, as memorable as Glenn Healy's 1993 run was, neither he nor Fitzpatrick had too much promise ahead for them. If one of the Islanders goaltending prospects will later become a cantankerous talking head on Canada's NHL coverage, then he'll be a perfect parallel to Healy.

Anyway, the rest of the NHL 94 lineup above is marked by some loveable characters and role players, much like today's Islanders fourth line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Colin McDonald. If the Isles last spring had not lost two games in overtime to the Penguins, they might have experienced a similar surprise run to the 1993 team, one that would etch so many role players into Islanders fans' memories.

The difference though? Today's team won't be torn apart. Unlike the 1994 squad that followed up that run, today's Islanders team has a brighter future ahead.

Whereas the '94 roster's key players outside of Turgeon were older players, today's Islanders squad is led by youth. Visnovsky and Evgeni Nabokov are the only key players 30 or over today; the 94 squad's non-Turgeon young players would never amount to more than depth players.

In an EA simulation I'm not sure which team would win -- the 94 or the NHL 14 Isles, nor which would be more fun to play with in a video game situation. I do know which group I'd rather have a few years later though, and it's not even close.

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