The New York Islanders had three Calder Trophy winners for rookie of the year within their first six seasons of existence. That fact, and those future Hall of Famers, were a major factor in the franchise being able to pull off the NHL’s last pure dynasty — four uninterrupted Stanley Cup winners.
But despite more superstars to come, the Islanders’ luck with this end-of-season trophy dried up. In fact, there has been only one Islanders Calder winner since then, and it’s one casual NHL fans would likely overlook.
On top of that, the three biggest homegrown stars since the dynasty era did not win the Calder. That’s expected to change tonight with Mathew Barzal, who
would [update: did] become the franchise’s fifth winner and the fourth of those drafted by the team.
But here’s a quick look at the history Barzal is joining.
Denis Potvin, 1974 Winner
You likely know the legend. This is back in the 20-year-old draft era. Everyone knew Potvin would be a superstar. Bill Torrey resisted all of Montreal’s flirtation to grab the #1 pick from the expansion team that had struggled mightily in its first season. Torrey even acquired Potvin’s brother from the Flyers to sweeten the incentive to resist any overtures from the emerging WHA, which was throwing lots of money around.
Potvin had 55 points in 77 games. The Calder was sealed. Later: he hoisted the Cup four times as captain.
Bryan Trottier, 1976 Winner
Have franchise defenseman, add franchise center.
The Islanders had surged to the Stanley Cup semifinal in Potvin’s second year, announcing to the league that they were on their way. Then they added Trottier, who promptly put up 95 points in 80 games his rookie year.
Mike Bossy, 1978 Winner
Have franchise defenseman, have franchise center...now add a lethal sniper.
Bossy came along in 1977-78 and put up 91 points on 53 goals. To put that in perspective, Willi Plett, the man who won the Calder in between Trottier and Bossy’s years, managed “just” 56 points and 33 goals in his rookie year.
Al Arbour’s famous response to concerns about Bossy’s defensive acumen was, essentially, “I can teach a kid to backcheck. I can’t teach him to score goals.”
Bossy had that knack, and he showed it from the get-go.
Pat LaFontaine, no votes
LaFontaine was the next star in the Islanders pipeline, and really the last one of the Torrey/Delvecchio era. He played with the U.S. Olympic team in 1984 but joined the Islanders in time for their “Drive For Five,” which fell short on fumes in the finals as the Oilers won their first Cup.
The records show no Calder votes for LaFontaine the following year — some Mario Lemieux guy won — which is perplexing. I’m suspecting the eligibility rules were different (LaFontaine played 15 regular season games plus playoffs in 1984) but can’t find anything there. In his abridged year, Tom Barrasso won the Calder as an 18-year-old goalie, with LaFontaine’s draft classmate Steve Yzerman the runner up, and Pierre Turgeon’s older brother, Sylvain, finishing a distant third.
Anyway, he did so much more than this before a contract dispute forced a trade to the Sabres for Turgeon, but LaFontaine is known for finishing the four-overtime Easter Epic to oust the Capitals in D.C. in Game 7.
Ziggy Palffy, no votes
Zigmund “Ziggy” Palffy was a superstar of the late ‘90s for a cheap, underfunded and mismanaged Islanders team. Often, outside of the 1997 Calder winner (see below), he was their only bright light.
But it took him a few seasons to gain a foothold. A five-game debut in 1993-94 produced no points and a minus-six, which stood out back in that day. Thirty-three games the following season offered more promise (but also ate up his Calder eligiblity), with 10 goals and 17 points.
That set the stage for a breakout campaign in 1995-96, with 43 goals and 87 points in 81 games.
But anyway, he was one of those who didn’t burst on the scene immediately, which means no Calder consideration.
Bryan Berard, 1997 Winner
Berard was not homegrown, but rather the product of dysfunction in Ottawa, from which the Islanders benefited despite their own woes. (Wow, deja vu.)
A training camp holdout forced a trade of recently drafted blueliners: Wade Redden to the Senators in exchange for Berard, who notched 48 points and eight goals at age 19 to take the Calder. He even finished 11th in Norris Trophy voting that year.
Alas, he was traded in one of Mike Milbury’s fits of madness, and an eye injury suffered with the Leafs terribly shortened his career, though he came back and even returned to the Isles for a brief stint in 2007-08.
John Tavares, 5th-place in 2010 Calder voting
Tavares was the much-hyped 1st-overall pick from the previous summer, and he delivered on that hype with 54 points in his first season.
But Tyler Myers wowed the voters with 48 points as a 19-year-old defenseman to win the trophy with the Sabres. Two goalies, Jimmy Howard (age 25) and Tuukka Rask (age 22) took two of the next three spots before Tavares finished in fifth in the voting.
After Myers, voting was fairly spread out over Howard (2nd), Matt Duchene (3rd, with one more point that season than Tavares), Rask (4th) and Tavares. But Tavares had zero first-place votes, and only two second-place votes.
Anyway, that’s okay. He’s done some things since then.
Also Receiving Votes (Trivia)
Just two years after Tavares’ rookie year, the Islanders had another Calder candidate who actually finished higher than he did — he was a finalist with the third-highest vote score.
Michael Grabner, the waiver claim who’d yet to get a full crack with the Canucks or Panthers. At age 23, he scored 34 goals as a rookie. But in the voting he lost out to Calder winner Jeff Skinner (31 goals at age 18) and Logan Couture, the runner up.
[UPDATE] I neglected to include Trent Hunter, a finalist in 2004. I actually wasn’t going for a comprehensive list but I feel bad for leaving out the old stalwart #7 who spent most of his career with the Isles and bridged the pre- and post-lockout era. (h/t since70too)
Here’s to the next one.