Mike Milbury deserves to go down in the record books as one of the worst general managers of a sports team since Harry Frazee ran the Boston Red Sox. Milbury is one of the only GMs in NHL history whose name is next to two of the worst trades on many pundits' Top 10 lists: Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen for Mark Parish and Oleg Kvasha is right up there with Alexei Yashin for Zdeno Chara, Bill Muckalt and a first round pick (Jason Spezza, 2nd overall in 2001).
But beyond the LOL moves, there was so much more to Milbury's failings. Even teams that have made ridiculously bad trades were eventually able to make up for it. For all the flack that the Eric Lindros to Flyers trade gets in handing the future Colorado Avalanche several pieces of a Stanley Cup, at least the Flyers were a dominant team with Lindros and made the Stanley Cup finals. But it was a lot of the small trades and moves that sunk the Milbury Islanders. The franchise struggled not because of one huge deal, but because of a thousand small moves that nibbled the team to death. Today we look at the strange case of J.P. Dumont as an Islander.
1996 Entry Draft
The dawn of a new era for the Islanders, as Milbury was picking the first piece of the future. No more half hearted rebuilds, they were going to do things the Devils way. Although there were no franchise players, defenseman Chris Phillips was considered the best player in the draft followed by Andrei Zyuzin, Dumont and Alexandre Volchkov. In the midst of the '90s rush for quality D-men, Phillips and Zyuzin and were take at #1 and #2 by Ottawa and San Jose.
For the Islanders that left both Right Wingers Dumont and Volchkov on the board. Dumont was coming off a 105 point season in the infamously offensive oriented QMJHL. Volchkov was coming off a 63 point season for Barrie of the OHL. Volchkov was 17 and there were rumors of him having personality issues. In the end the Isles picked Dumont, who went back to the Q for 2 seasons. In his final season he broke Mario Lemieux's playoff scoring record with 31 goals in 19 games.
The Islanders were apparently unable to sign or unwilling to pay for Dumont's contract demands. On the eve of having to sign him or have him re-enter the draft, Milbury signed him to a 3-year $2.6 million dollar contract ... before shipping him off to Chicago for Dmitri Nabokov. Over two seasons Nabokov played mostly for the Isles IHL affiliate Lowell Lock Monsters. He did play 30 games on the Island and scored 13 points in those games before leaving for Russia.
At the time of the trade Milbury had this to say about Dumont (via the NY Daily News):
Obviously if I thought he had a great future I wouldn't have given him away.
We think Nabokov is ready to compete for a spot on our team right now, We don't think J.P. is ready to do that.
We scouted this player as much as any since I've been in the organization. Our staff feels we have a better prospect in Nabokov.
Now we all know how this turned out. Basically anytime Milbury gave a talent analysis to the press, you could expect the opposite to happen. While Dumont never became a franchise player, after he landed with the Buffalo Sabres he became a 20+ goal and 40+ point player. In his 10 seasons between the Preds and Sabres he had six 20-goal seasons, eight seasons of 40+ points and five seasons of 50+ points.
Meanwhile in the 98-99 season the Islanders went through 15 different wingers on either side. Between 99-00 and 08-09 the Islanders only had 7 wingers who managed over 20 goals in a season. In hindsight Dumont was easily one of the best players drafted in the '96 draft which is largely considered a weak draft today. It almost would have been better if the Islanders had allowed him to re-enter the draft and gotten a 3rd rounder, something they did later with Mike Rupp.
Now in fairness one could argue that the Islanders hand was forced in the situation and the owners were unwilling to pay for Dumont's contract. But when Dumont struggled at Islanders camp, rumors came out that the Isles were shopping him. At the time the rumors were that Eric Daze or Viktor Kozlov were possible players they could have gotten in return. While both players had ups and downs in their career, they were both preferable to Nabokov.
Urban Hockey Legend
Like most Milbury deals, there's an urban legend in this case that has to do with the decision between Volchkov and Dumont. Before the draft it looked as though the Islanders would be leaning towards Volchkov as they had interviewed him multiple times and were scouting him heavily. The legend goes that on the way to the draft, Milbury had a discussion with the taxi driver over whether he should take the safe guy (Dumont) or the guy with more upside but attitude problems (Volchkov). The driver said go with attitude problems, but fortunately Milbury went with Dumont. But that might explain some of his later trades and drafts.
Volchkov himself has a rather fun piece of history attached to him. The Capitals managed to dump Volchkov for a 4th rounder to Edmonton. In Edmonton he managed to make quite the impression on then GM Kevin Lowe's first training camp by insisting on being called Volch-inator. He was sent back to AHL Hamiliton for all of 25 games before the Oilers soured on him and let him return to Russia.