clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Strange Existence of the Islanders Hall of Fame

New, comments

The exclusive class finally welcomes two more this month.

Los Angeles Kings v New York Islanders

The Islanders will retire two jerseys worn by members of the dynasty era, the number 27 worn by John Tonelli for eight seasons tonight and the number 91 worn by Butch Goring next Saturday. The recognition that had been alluding the duo has been induction into the Islanders Hall of Fame.

Founded in 2006 by the late Charles Wang, the Hall of Fame immediately added the “Core of the Four,” Dennis Potvin, Clark Gillies, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Bob Nystrom, and Billy Smith. They were joined by Bob Bourne, the first player who did not have his number retired to be inducted. Bourne was one of the unsung hero of the dynasty, leading the Islanders with 28 points in the 1983 Stanley Cup playoffs. A worthy inductee to the Hall.

Ken Morrow saw his name added to the banner in 2011. The defenseman came to the Islanders following the “Miracle on Ice” and played his entire NHL with the Islanders. Morrow was the last dynasty-era player to be inducted.

That will change during their jersey retirement ceremonies. This will be the first inductions since former captain Kenny Jonsson’s name was added to the banner nine years ago. Jonsson is the only player inducted to have played in this century.

Why the gap? That’s anyone’s guess. Lets start with Tonelli, the “Greasy Jet” who assisted on the franchise’s signature goal, Bob Nystrom’s 1980 Stanley Cup winning in goal in Game Six. Tonelli scored clutch goals throughout his career on the Island. He still ranks in the top ten for most assists and points in franchise history.

Unfortunately his time with the Islanders ended on a sour note. Tonelli became the first Islander under contract to hold out, missing 22 days. He returned to the team and was traded to Calgary on March 11, 1986.

His accomplishments surely warranted his name in the rafters. Tonelli returned to the Isles family when he he did the ceremonial puck-drop before a home game at Barclays Center in January 2018. Puck drop yes, Hall of Fame no.

Florida Panthers v New York Islanders
Two JTs
Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images

The franchise has a history of that.

If Tonelli was the first Islander to hold out, then Pat LaFontaine was the messiest. The Islanders drafted LaFontaine third overall in the 1983 NHL draft. The Islanders acquired the pick from the Colorado Rockies for Dave Cameron and Bob Lorimer in 1981. It turned out to be one of the greatest trades in team history. It was the Griffin Reinhart trade of its time.

LaFontaine scored 566 points (287 goals, 279 assists) in 530 games for the Islanders, taking the torch from Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier as the Islanders’ top offensive threat. LaFontaine became the first player not named Bossy or Trottier to lead the Islanders in scoring in 10 years, when he notched 92 points in 1987-88. LaFontaine led the Islanders in goals and points for four straight seasons; his best statistical year coming in 1989-90, when he scored 54 goals and 105 points. Number 16 ranks sixth in Islanders’ all-time scoring and 5th in goals with 287 and became the second Islander to score 50 goals in a season. Pat ranked 7th in the fan voting for the greatest all-time islanders

His greatest Islanders moment came on April 18, 1987, when he scored at 8:42 of quadruple overtime to beat Capitals, 4-3, in Game 7 of Patrick Division semifinals. Game ends in early hours of Sunday, April 19, and is remembered as the “Easter Epic,” arguably the second most memorable goal in franchise history.

It was all downhill for the team after that moment. 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 Aug. 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 it 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.

On October 25, 1991, 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.

Following his trade to Buffalo, Pat played six seasons with the Sabres where he had 385 points in 268 games. The Sabres inducted him into their Hall of Fame in 2004 and his number 16 was retired 2006. The Missouri native was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.

It would seem the LaFontaine would get a second chance with the Islanders. On June 7, 2006, the Islanders announced that LaFontaine would return to the team as Senior Advisor to Charles Wang. This was short-lived, however, as LaFontaine resigned in protest only six weeks later on July 18, the same day that general manager Neil Smith was fired by the Islanders, beginning the Garth Snow era.

After his second divorce from the team, it seemed like all was lost. Fast forward nine years, Wang and LaFontaine reconciled and Islanders honored Pat in the first final season of Nassau Coliseum. He dropped the puck in the ceremonial faceoff but the team did little else to honor one of the greatest player in team history.

Puck drop yes, Hall of Fame no.

Minnesota Wild v New York Islanders
LaFontaine and the other JT
Photo by Jim McIsaac/NHLI via Getty Images

Butch Goring is widely regarded as the “final piece of the puzzle” for the Islanders. Acquired in March of 1980, Goring made an immediate impact, registering 11 points in 12 regular-season games. The “final piece” took it a step further in the playoff scoring 19 points in 21 games. The following playoffs saw him lift the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe trophy. He spent six years as a player for the Islanders, collecting 87 goals and 108 assists.

Following his playing career, Goring had stints as the Capital District, Denver, Utah, and Las Vegas head coach in the Islanders system. He coached the big club from 1999-01. He got the ax from former general manager Mike Milbury on March 4, 2001. That alone should warranted immediate induction to the Hall of Fame,

As we all know, Butch can seen alongside Brendan Burke on MSG’s broadcast.

The oversights are not limited to former players. The emcee of tonight and next Saturday’s festivities will be Jiggs McDonald, who began calling Islanders games in 1980. McDonald received the Foster Hewiit Memorial from the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990 for his outstanding contributions to their profession and the game of hockey during their broadcast career.

Florida Panthers v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Jiggs’s longtime broadcast partner, former Islanders captain, Ed Westfall, is an Isles Hall of Fame member. Reuniting those two in the rafters will delight all Islanders fans.

The Islanders had a golden opportunity to do just that. On January 11, 2017, McDonald was honored a bronze microphone, a customized jersey and he dropped the ceremonial first puck.

Bronze microphone yes, customized jersey yes, puck drop yes, Hall of Fame no.

The current ownership group, along with Islanders president Lou Lamoriello, has signaled that more players will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. When and who is anyone’s guess. Perhaps the 40th anniversary of the 1981, 82 and 83 Cups, as well as the second final season at Nassau Coliseum.