July 1, 2018 was just another heartbreak in a long line of heartbreaks for New York Islanders fans, including our very own Dan Saraceni. Quite frankly, I come to expect it.
Over the last 25 years the team has lost, arguably the three greatest players in the post-dynasty. The result was the same, however each had their own drama.
October 25, 1991
While the 1980s were kind to the New York Islanders, the start of the next decade was a different story. The four-time Stanley Cup Champions won just one playoff series after their “Drive for Five” stalled in 1984. Their star, Pat LaFontaine grew tired of losing, and more importantly, the uncertainty of ownership.
The owner at the time, John Pickett, was pretty detached from the team. The much-maligned owner, accused of pocketing $12 million of revenue from their cable deal rather than reinvesting it in the team, moved down to Florida. Pickett turned over day-to-day operations to four Long Island businessmen better know as the “Gang of Four” who each bought 2.5 percent of the team.
LaFontaine, who played in the 1984 Stanley Cup Final, was entering the option year of a contract that paid him about $425,000 annually. Under NHL rules at the time, a player entering his option year automatically became a free agent if he was not offered a new contract by August 10. LaFontaine wanted a contract comparable to Detroit Red Wings center Steve Yzerman, who was making $1.5 million annually at the time. After nine months of negotiations between the two, parties broke down, LaFontaine requested a trade. Shortly after the request, Pickett officially put the Islanders up for sale, confident that the team would sell quickly.
LaFontaine, the third overall pick in the 1983 draft, was not traded. He finished the 1990-91 season with the Islanders registering 41 goals and 44 assists. He was not traded during the summer either and did not report to training camp for the following season. LaFontaine was firm in his stance that he would never play another game with the Islanders if Pickett still owned the team.
LaFontaine got his wish and went to Buffalo with left winger Randy Wood and defenseman Randy Hillier for Sabres center Pierre Turgeon, forwards Benoit Hogue and Dave McLlwain and defenseman Uwe Krupp.
Pickett thought he had sold the team on a couple of occasions. The latter being to John Spano. After Spano was revealed as a fraud, Pickett finally sold the team to businessman Howard Milstein and Phoenix Coyotes co-owner Steven Gluckstern. The deal closed in early 1998, seven years after Pickett put the team up for sale. LaFontaine’s last game in the NHL was March 16, 1998. All of the players acquired by the Islanders on October 25, 1991 had moved on by then.
Fans, to this date, are still pissed at LaFontaine. The organization sure holds grudges. His number 16 has yet to be raised to the rafters. In fact, 15 players wore the number after LaFontaine got traded. Legends such as Vladimir Orszagh, Daniel Lacroix, Craig Berube, Raffi Torres, the Justins, Mapletoft and Papineau, Jon Sim, Marty Reasoner and Andrew Ladd to name a few. He has yet to be inducted into the Islanders Hall of Fame.
LaFontaine was always upfront with his intentions, unlike John Tavares.
April 5, 1995
It usually is very tough to get equal or close to equal value when trading disgruntled players. Former Islanders general manager Bill Torrey managed to make the best of a bad situation. Turgeon, the top overall pick in the 1987 draft was a three-time 30-goal scorer with the Sabres. He was considered more of a playmaker than the pure goal-scoring LaFontaine.
He had an immediate impact in his first year with the Islanders. Number 77 scored 38 goals in 69 games. The following season would be his best as the French Canadian scored 58 goals and 132 points, and helped the team reach the playoffs for the first time since 1990. Turgeon scored what would be the series-clinching goal vs the Washington Capitals in Game 6 of the Patrick Division Semifinals. As he celebrated the goal, Turgeon was blindsided by Capitals forward Dale Hunter. Pierre separated his shoulder and missed six of the seven games vs the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Patrick Division Finals.
The Islanders defeated the Penguins in 7 games and advanced to the Wales Conference Finals against the Montreal Canadiens. Turgeon would score two goals and five points but was not completely healthy as the team fell to the Habs in 5 games. He was awarded the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for the 1992-93 season. Turgeon scored 147 goals and 340 points in 255 games on the Island.
The Islanders struggled during the lockdown-shortened 1995 season, going 10-20-4 before the team made the puzzling move to trade Turgeon. Then general manager Don Maloney, who started the trend of terrible Isles GMs, wanted to change the makeup of the team.
New course indeed, right for that iceberg. He was traded to the Montreal Canadiens as part of the Kirk Muller deal on April 5, 1995. That trade is considered the start of the Islanders’ downfall. Turgeon would go on to score 246 goals following the trade.
Muller, well he has a special place in fans’ hearts.
I’m still not over either one of those trades. I understand Turgeon probably would not have become an Islander without the LaFontaine deal. Both of those deals happened when I had a full head of hair.
As far as Tavares leaving, well it’s going to take more than a generation to forgive. The number 91 will likely head to the rafters, however it will be for Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe winner Butch Goring.