The New York Islanders - along with every other NHL team and many other businesses - have temporarily suspended operations due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. The Center for Disease Control and World Health Organizations have strongly advised the public to practice self-quarantining and avoid close contact and crowds to limit the spread of the virus. But that doesn’t mean we can’t gather in a virtual space and talk about old hockey players.
As long as the Islanders are on pause, we’ll run this series to give folks a place to chat, reminisce, and generally relieve the stress of the times.
The feeling about Claude Lapointe while he was an Islander (at least, around me and my buddies) that was, on a good team, he would have been one of the best fourth liners in the league. He was a tenacious checker, excellent on face-offs, could kill penalties, and had a scoring touch to go along with his noticeable defensive instincts.
The sad thing was that, he was on a good team, one of the best of his era. No, not the Islanders. They were mostly terrible during his time here. No, I mean the Colorado Avalanche, who he followed from Quebec before being traded to Calgary early in the season in which they won their first Stanley Cup.
Lapointe was selected by the Nordiques in the 12 (!) round of the 1988 NHL draft and spent five years in the fleur-de-lis while they built themselves into a league juggernaut (thanks, Eric Lindros). The franchise relocated to Denver in the summer of 1995, and in November of that year - after just three games and one headshot as an Av - he was traded to the Flames for center Sami Pahlsson. Lapointe played 32 games with Calgary and a bunch in the AHL while his old team acquired some goalie named Patrick Roy and wiped out the Panthers in four straight to win the Cup.
The then 28-year-old signed with the Islanders in the summer of 1996 and immediately became a management and fan favorite. It might have been the fact that he actually chose to sign with the downtrodden, Fisherman-clad team team as a free agent that made him seem so special. But it probably had more to do with the fact that on a team that was mostly bereft of talent, Lapointe was one of the few guys that generally seemed to know what he was doing out there.
He scored double digit goals in each of his first four years as an Islander, topping out at a career-high 15 in 1999-2000. He did a little bit (or a lot) of everything for those teams including getting power play time and being, essentially, one of their top centers. Which was both exhilarating and clearly just wrong. That he was forced into a role he wasn’t quite built for and was still was productive and responsible helped make “Lappy” extremely popular with teammates and fans and a three-time winner of the most prestigious trophy in the history of professional sports - The Bob Nystrom Award as the Islander who “exemplifies leadership, hustle and dedication.”
Here’s a couple of his goals, one an OT winner and one against that Roy guy.
Lapointe signed with the Islanders at a very low ebb in the franchise’s history, and was also around for one of their highest points, the 2001-02 renaissance. Although his scoring totals took a dip, he was still a key member of that team and contributed to their deadly penalty kill by scoring three shorthanded goals. He didn’t score in the brutal playoff series against the Maple Leafs, but he played in all seven games and got into a small tussell with former Islanders teammate Travis Green.
The next season would be Lapointe’s last as an Islander, though. In March of 2003, he was traded to the Flyers for a fifth round pick (which was later traded to the Penguins). I vaguely remember him being a pending UFA at the time (although I might be wrong) and at 34, GM Mike Milbury probably thought he could find a younger replacement. Lapointe scored two goals and three assists for Philadelphia in the playoffs that season, as they made the semifinals. He stayed with them for one more season before packing it in.
At least for the few years. He played a few games in Switzerland in 2003-04 at the age of 38, then in the Ligue Nord-Americaine de Hockey for his hometown Trois-Rivieres team a year later. These days, he coaches youth hockey and is creating a private online teaching tool called Straight Talk Hockey. The Islanders are clearly still a major part of his life and career and he’s been seen at Alumni Weekends, where he can take his place among the team’s most popular players.
“I just loved the Islanders,” Lapointe said. “I was fortunate to play in this league [NHL] and to play for the Islanders. My heart will always be with the Islanders.”