(Note: I recently was lucky enough to participate in a series at Puck Daddy where fans and bloggers got to revel in the biggest disappointments in their teams' histories. Of course, as an Islanders fan, I immediately thought of a million other negative episodes to add to the project after it was posted. So I decided to compile an independent second list of Islanders disappointments, using only events and people that I didn't mention at all the first time. Here goes.)
Second Most Disappointing Season: (tie) 2013-14 New York Islanders and 1988-89 New York Islanders
The Islanders' return to the playoffs in 2013 got fans' hopes up in a huge way for the first time since... their last return to the playoffs back in 2002.
Sadly, 2013-14 was extremely disappointing. The failure of GM Garth Snow to properly address the goaltending by adding any actual NHL goalies to the roster left the team swimming upstream until John Tavares' injury at the Olympics finally put everyone out of their misery.
The many painful road bumps of that excruciating season have been rehashed to death here and will be until at least the beginning of next season. Trades went sideways, guys got hurt, slumps were epic and many games were lost. Coming so soon after such a celebratory season made it even more cruel.
The 1988-89 season was a similar disappointment. After finishing first in the Patrick Division in 1987-88, the Islanders appeared to still be a formidable opponent. But like Mikko Makela, it was all a mirage.
In reality, the wheels came off the Islanders in a shockingly abrupt way. They missed the playoffs for the first time since 1975. Pat LaFontaine's 45 goals weren't enough to make up for inconsistent goalies Kelly Hrudey, Jeff Hackett, Mark Fitzpatrick and a retiring Billy Smith. Coach Terry Simpson was fired after 27 games and replaced with Al Arbour, the only guy who could be trusted to stop the bleeding.
The once fearsome Islanders were lost in the woods for the first time since birth. You can easily argue that they still haven't found their way out yet.
Second Most Disappointing Islander: Todd Bertuzzi
Before the search for "The Next Milan Lucic," Islanders fans had the search for "The Next Clark Gillies."
Todd Bertuzzi, 6-foot-3, 200-something pounds of muscle, looked to be the treasure everyone was looking for. Drafted 23rd overall in 1993, Bertuzzi tore up the OHL at Guelph with seasons of 82 and 119 points. "The Next Clark Gillies" was on track to arrive very shortly.
But Bertuzzi wasn't interested in following in anyone's footsteps and didn't get the time to find his own way. After his call-up in 1995, he managed to score 18 goals on a dreadful Islanders team, but dropped to 10 the next season and struggled with some injuries. He clashed with coach/GM/czar Mike Milbury and resisted attempts to have "The Actual Clark Gillies" mentor him.
In 1998, Milbury lost his patience with Bertuzzi (and probably vice versa), and sent him with Bryan McCabe to Vancouver for Trevor Linden. "The Next Clark Gillies" experiment was over in favor of "The Old Trevor Linden" experiment, which worked out just as swimmingly.
Bertuzzi went on to score 188 goals in over 500 games for the Canucks, and combined with Markus Naslund to make Vancouver a good team in the early 2000's. Islanders fans are still looking for "The Next Clark Gillies" and hoping to avoid forging "The Next Todd Bertuzzi" (see below).
Second Most Disappointing Moment in Islanders History: 2003 NHL Draft
Looking back at draft what-ifs is usually a waste of time. Even the most NHL-ready guaranteed star is a human being with about a million things separating him from achieving a successful career. The Islanders (and in fairness, most teams) have enough draft misses to fill volumes.
But one draft in particular - 2003 - stands out as a disappointment because all the signs were there for the Islanders to make the safe - and ultimately smart - pick. And they didn't.
Zach Parise is the son of an Islanders legend, an American college kid who paced North Dakota with grit and heart and clutchness and all that mythologized crap. The Islanders' core wasn't getting younger and having a next generation in your hip pocket is never a bad idea. Selecting 15th that year, it wasn't a foregone conclusion that Parise would even be available. And yet, there he was. Even he expected to become an Islander. Why would anyone think anything else?
The Islanders drafted Robert Nilsson instead.
Meanwhile, New Jersey decided the Islanders loss was their gain. The Devils traded two picks to Edmonton, moved up to 17th and drafted Parise.
Nilsson scored 37 goals in 252 games over five seasons for the Islanders and Oilers, to whom he was traded for Ryan Smyth. He left North America in 2010. Parise, of course, is in the prime of his career in Minnesota and captained the Devils to the 2012 Stanley Cup final. He has had five different seasons of more than 30 goals, including 45 in 2008-09.
Second Most Disappointing Islanders transaction: Kirk Muller-Pierre Turgeon Trade
With all due respect to Matt Moulson, who remains a fan favorite, Nino Niederreiter, who still has a chance to become "The Next Todd Bertuzzi" and Ziggy Palffy, who was auctioned to the highest bidder like the prized bull at a state fair, one trade from almost 20 years ago still haunts Nassau Coliseum to this day.
The Pierre Turgeon for Kirk Muller trade (we'll use the shorthand and skip over Vladimir Malakhov and Mathieu Schneider for this exercise) was more than just a poorly-vetted swap of stars. It sent the Islanders' best player, a guy whose poster was on almost every bedroom wall on Long Island, a guy who scored silky smooth goals by the bucketload and whose injury the team and fanbase rallied around to a conference rival for a guy who, literally, didn't want to play for them.
I wrote at length about the Muller Affair and its disastrous effect on that Islanders team and the dozens that succeeded it. Muller, intentional or not, set a precedent of players balking at suiting up for the Islanders, a stigma the team has yet to fully shake.
He was the "pioneer" that made it acceptable to not play for the Islanders. It's surprising that there isn't a statue of him at the Canadian border.
Second Most Disappointing Islanders Coach/Executive: Steven Gluckstern and the Milstein Brothers
After the ouster of John Spano and the return of absentee owner John Pickett, fans desperately needed a hero. What they got was Steven Gluckstern, who had bought the Winnipeg Jets and oversaw their move to Phoenix, and brothers Howard and Edward Milstein who were part of old New York money.
It quickly became apparent that their main goal was to bully, threaten, scam and fight Nassau County for a new arena, then flip the Islanders for profit. The county, run forever by politicians even more crooked than sports owners, told Gluckstern and Co. to go jump in a lake.
Payroll was cut and players like Palffy and Linden were traded for "futures." No one knew what was going on or where the Islanders were going to play or if they would even exist the next year. Games were like funerals. The pall around the franchise was never more dire than at this time.
Eventually, Gluckstern and the Milsteins realized the jig was up and agreed to sell to Charles Wang and Sanjay Kumar in 2000. Wang is very, very far from perfect, but his predecessors are among the worst examples of sports ownership.
On second thought, I could probably just write "Everyone except Bill Torrey and Al Arbour sucked" and be done with it.
Second Most Disappointing Islanders Fashion Choice: RBK Edge White jerseys
The league-wide RBK jersey redesign that came out of the 2005 lockout was, for many teams, a small formality. They fit their customary uniform into the Reebok guidlelines and away they went. Too bad the Islanders never do things the easy way.
Their white road RBK jerseys are my second least favorite uniforms they've ever worn (try to guess the first). The "pajama jerseys," as we call them around here, had a dark, dingy orange as the secondary color and never, in my mind, really truly screamed ISLANDERS. And the patchwork panels on the sleeves looked wonky and odd like elbow patches on a cashmere sweater.
The jerseys look like they were taken off a rack of pre-made styles, slapped with an also dark and dingy looking Islanders logo and, out of sheer laziness, used for three seasons. Personally, I never felt really invested in them while watching games and took little pride in them.
In fairness, the home blue versions were OK.
As usual, a couple of throwback third jersey nights is all it takes for people to see why classic looks are classic looks. The return to a contemporary version of the Islanders traditional royal blue and orange uniform is one of the best decisions they've made in the last 10 years. Like tweens at the mall, hockey teams walking around their pajamas looks sloppy and depressing.
I'm positive that I've missed some Earth-shattering disappointment or monumental mistake somewhere in here, too. We could probably put together yet another list using examples from the comments section. So what else have we lived through?