Our very young ice hockey team has had everything go sideways on them. Not a surprise, as they are still not quite ready for contention - not even in this year's Eastern Conference, which features seven or eight mediocre teams, any two of which will make the playoffs by default this season.
In their honor, I've decided to put up a post about the worst of times. It's easy to pick out the best times when you win four straight championships and nothing else; when you have seven Hall of Famers over a concentrated period and little else. But when the suffering starts to pile up - it's just about 30 seasons since "OT - NYI, Nystrom (Tonelli, Henning) 7:11" - it's time to have a laugh about crying. This is not an original idea (and Leafs fans have been waiting longer than we have), but it's cathartic. If you like, you can hum the Simpsons' "Mediocre Presidents" song in your head as you read, for these are the adequate, forgettable, and occasionally regrettable Islanders...
Starting goalie: Tommy Soderstrom - Folks are more familiar with the longer tenure of Tommy Salo, a middling enough keeper who shrank from big moments and was reduced to tears in an arbitration hearing by his own general manager. That deserves special mention. Soderstrom, however, beats him out. He wasn't really good at anything. His 3.61 GAA is lowest in the annals of the franchise for any goalie with 50 career games, save Gerry Desjardins, who is excused because he played for the team in their first three seasons. Save percentage? .886, in the dead puck era. He played ten seconds in the 1996-97 season, and that was it for his career. And then there's this demoralizing fight. Perhaps the odd helmet/mask combo fooled the Isles into thinking they were getting Arturs Irbe, or something.
Backup: Eric Fichaud - Not really all his fault. He was drafted too high by the Leafs, and then dealt off in a trade that hurt everyone involved: the popular Benoit Hogue went from Long Island cult hero to Toronto pariah, the extra picks were squandered, and poor Fichaud was tossed onto the ice to face NHL teams behind one of the most porous teams of the day. His first two teams finished in the bottom five of the league and his final team finished 19th out of 26. The only consolation for him must have been that the Leafs finished below the Isles twice in those three seasons. Just a horrible trade.
Salo. Not Ron Hextall - everyone remembers "A River Runs Through Him" but there were mitigating factors: 1. if not for Hextall the Isles would never even have made the playoffs that year; 2. the Rangers were so stacked that year that beating them would have been even more astounding than beating the Pens the year before; and 3. Jamie McLennan got similarly smoked in his game two appearance. It wasn't Ron's fault.
Dick Tarnstrom - drafted in 1994, finally came to North America as a 27-year old rookie and human giveaway machine for the 2001-2002 Isles. He was a frustrating player to watch; offensively gifted but lost anywhere within fifty feet of his own goalkeeper. (Penguins fans are nodding right now. Sixteen goals and 52 points while going minus 37?!? Ugh.)
Thomas Pock - three points in fifty-nine games, minus 17, hasn't played an NHL minute since. Completely overmatched by the NHL. At least he was only a waiver claim.
Bruno Gervais - the current whipping boy for suffering Isles fans. He's a polite, well-spoken, decent young fellow who likes cooking, has a cute girlfriend, and gets undressed regularly by opposing forwards. Probably not as bad as advertised, but that's a function of having a poor team: you have guys playing too many minutes, against too-tough opposition. Bruno may be a sixth or seventh guy, and he's been on the TOP pair at times. Sadly, there can be only one outcome.
Janne Niinimaa - if you look at his numbers, they're actually not bad. Janne was never very comfortable on the Island but he didn't disgrace himself, either. On this I think some of my fellow fans were overreacting. Then again, you can go to any Isles blog and see that for yourself: if they win a few games everyone is mentally organizing parades and banner-raisings; lose a few and it's "trade everybody, those guys stink!" In other words, we probably owe Janne a fruit basket or something. I hope he's happier wherever he is now.
Dean Chynoweth - this was hardly Dean's fault: he was very frequently injured. The trouble was that he was drafted in the first round ahead of some talented players, such as Joe Sakic and John LeClair. (I'm leaving out others like Mathieu Schneider who actually later became Islanders... including the 114th overall pick, who is now their general manager.)
Scott Lachance - much like Chynoweth, he wasn't openly dreadful the way some of the others were, but it's all about opportunity cost. The Isles took him FOURTH overall in 1991, leaving on the table players like Peter Forsberg, Brian Rolston, Alexei Kovalev, Ray Whitney, and Markus Naslund. Heck, they could have taken Richard Matvichuk if they wanted a defender. Then again, it also comes down to player development; had they taken Matvichuk maybe he's on this list and Lachance has a long career as a respected blueliner for Minnesota/Dallas.
Most of the folks I could list here just weren't around very long, so instead, some follow-up trivia about 1991: the Isles took Ziggy Palffy in the second round of this draft, after all the above-listed players were off the board. Nice pick. And the all-time scoring leader for that draft class, surprisingly, is NOT Forsberg or even Eric Lindros. Injuries limited their playing time too much. With 408 goals and 980 points (and counting), it's Kovalev.
Kirk Muller - public enemy number one for a large number of Isles fans of my age. He'd won a Cup with the Canadiens - beating the '93 Isles in the conference finals along the way - and midway through the shortened '94-'95 year, the Isles traded for him and Matheiu Schneider. However, it cost them Pierre Turgeon and Vladimir Malakhov, depriving the Isles of their most talented forward and defender in one shot. And Muller flat-out did NOT want to play for the Isles, bitched about it publicly, and dogged it while on the ice. The Isles were forced to accept pennies on the dollar for him midway through the very next season. Oh, we'll be talking about the GM of THIS trade in a few minutes, thankyouverymuch. Sonofab...
Brett Lindros - Don Maloney bragged upon his selection in 1994 that he had "the better Lindros." It was not to be. He was even more concussion-prone than big brother Eric. Eventually he was forced to retire after just 51 games. He scored twice in that time. Nobody was ever angry at Brett they way they were at anyone else on this list, really; he may well have made good on his potential. (Of course, with Milbury on the horizon, he would have done so in another jersey.) This is just a very sad story.
Alexei Yashin - I remain convinced that the real problem with Yashin was not his talent, nor his production. He played well, if not as well as he had in Ottawa. He overcame a severe injury that affected the tendons in one of his hands, which could have ended his career. I don't buy the "aloof Russian" reputation crap, either. Nobody would have thought he was aloof if he was only paid $3 million per year. No, the real issue here was that the Isles paid a king's ransom for him (soon-to-be franchise defender Zdeno Chara, checking forward Bill Muckalt, AND the second-overall pick, which became Jason Spezza), paid him a kings' fortune, and then were stuck with the bill after the lockout and the new salary cap. Eventually they were forced to buy him out; now he plays back home in Russia and sleeps with Carol Alt, so who's laughing now?
Oleg Kvasha - no discussion of Yashin is complete without Kvasha. When it comes to enigmatic Russian talents, this was the poster child: a large, physical player with gifted hands who could never top 15 goals in a season. Eventually went back to play in Russia as well, though his tastes in supermodels are unknown. Talk about enigmas: either there's another dude named Oleg Kvasha out there, or he has hidden musical talents.
Mike Comrie - anytime a guy plays for five different teams before his 30th birthday, something's up, but when he's done two separate stints for two of them, then it's on a whole new level. The guy's obviously got great talent, but something makes him very easy to part with despite it all. Incidentally, one of the prospects he was once traded for, Rob Schremp, is currently an Islanders rookie, and off to a promising start.
Chris Simon - long one of the league's better enforcers, but had good enough hands to score 29 goals one season. Also good enough hands to clobber Ryan Hollweg in the face with his stick. In fairness to Simon, it was later revealed that he had been concussed by an illegal hit from behind that received no penalty at all. He claimed later that he didn't really recall what he'd done to Hollweg because of it; I only note that he certainly recalled which player was responsible for it. He was later suspended again for stomping on a guy with his skate. Now out of hockey.
Joe Sacco - remember those players I didn't mention above, who eventually became Islanders after being drafted after Dean Chynoweth in 1987? Joe was one of them, but he gets mentioned anyway, because while on the Island, he put up one of the most confounding statlines in league history: in 73 games in 1998-99, he scored three lonely goals with zero assists - zero as in nil, zip, none, bubkes. Nobody deflected one of his shots in, or scored on one of his rebounds, or even had a fluke shot off his rump and into the net, much less converted an actual pass. It's astonishing. He wasn't a brawler, either. One would think that even in just ten minutes played per game, you could get an assist just by accident, at least once. I mean, even Mick Vukota never went an entire year without an assist, and he took 250 penalty minutes a year.
Scott Scissons - it seems odd to hate on a guy who played all of two NHL games, and scored no points. Wonder no more. He was taken sixth overall in 1990's entry draft. Eighty-seven different players taken in that draft had points in the NHL, including eight goaltenders. If that's not enough, one of those goalies is still playing in the area: you may have heard of him, fellow by the name of Brodeur, the NHL's all-time wins and shutouts leader in the regular season. Scott *($$!?%^* Scissons, people!
Dishonorables: I'll take nominations from the audience here. I just can't go on. Scott Scissons....
GM: Mike Milbury - the easy choice. He was the engineer of so many disastrous moments during his inexplicably long stay in the organization. Tops was trading Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen to Florida for Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish: that's one of the five best goalies in the league and a perennial 30-goal scorer (if a touch of a headcase) for one of the other guys on this list and hard-working yet clearly secondary scorer. Then there's Spezza/Chara for Yashin, the constant coaching changes, exiling young talent before it could develop, whiffing on top draft choices... to say nothing of the already-mentioned arbitration hearing where he savaged his own starting goalkeeper. It was a comedy of terrors with Mad Mike at the helm. O to put it another way - searching his name returns his wikipage as the top result, and a blog called "Mike Milbury Sucks" as the second. The third is his current job as an analyst on NBC and CBC. The fourth is "Mike Milbury's Bad Deals."
Dishonorable: Don Maloney - the former Ranger played a bit for the Isles before moving up to the front office in 1992. He came into a team with a lot of offensive talent (four 30-goal scorers) and a reasonable defense (Norton, Kurvers, Krupp, Malakhov, Pilon, Kasparaitis), and they shocked the two-time champion Penguins in the conference semifinals in 1993. He didn't feel like they could get any farther without better goalkeeping, though. He brought in Hextall. That, as we have seen, didn't work out so hot, so he panicked and sent Hextall right back to Philadelphia... for Soderstrom. Later that very season, he bundled Pierre Turgeon and Vladimir Malakhov to Montreal in the infamous Kirk Muller deal. That was pretty much all she wrote.
Muller was eventually dealt for Ken Freakin' Belanger, straight up. Schnieder is STILL playing, but was long dealt away: the Isles got Kenny Jonsson for him, which was nice, and the first-round pick that was part of that deal became... well whodathunk it? Roberto Luongo, who was part of Mad Mike's finest moment as GM of the Florida Panthers. Oh, wait... he was our GM, wasn't he?
So just three degrees of separation for the two worst trades in the history of the franchise (Turgeon/Malakhov for Muller/Schneider and Luongo/Jokinen for Kvasha/Parrish). Shocka. We'd better not be out of beer...
Trivia - Maloney and I were born on the same date, but not the same year. We also share a birthday with Jesse James. I am the only one of us not to kill a person or a franchise.