While the recent history of the New York Islanders has seen them win just one playoff series since 1993, their role since the NHL expanded in 1967 can’t be ignored.
Although it seems like the days of “Fort Neverlose” at the Islanders previous home at the Nassau Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum on Hempstead Turnpike was before we broke away from the British, what they accomplished should not be lost in history.
When the Pittsburgh Penguins won their fifth Stanley Cup earlier this June, a graphic I saw on NHL websites and NBC really bothered me. They showed the overall number of Stanley Cups won going back to the beginning of sports’ most prestigious trophy.
In a year where the NHL has added an expansion team (the Vegas Golden Knights), I think it’s time that the NHL updates how they recognize Stanley Cup winners.
Stanley Cup History
The Stanley Cup goes all the way back to 1893 when it was called “the Challenge Cup”. It was donated by the Governor General of Canada, Lord Stanley of Preston, in 1892, and is the oldest professional sports trophy in North America.
However, many hardcore NHL fans still get confused with when exactly the “official” tally of Stanley Cup winners begins. The history of the league is very confusing also, with the number of teams that came and went going back to 1917, when most NHL publications began registering Stanley Cup championships to teams.
Breaking Down the Eras
What I’d like to do is break this down into two eras. First, there is the era from 1915 to 1966-67. During the first part of that era, the NHL changed the number of teams almost every season. The NHL had as few as four teams from 1922-24 to as many as 10 teams from 1926-31.
When World War II started, the NHL then contracted to the “Original Six” teams. the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs. Those were the only teams that participated in the NHL’s “Golden Era” from 1942-43 to 1966-67. Needless to say, having only six teams in the league can add up championships very quickly.
In 1966-67 the NHL introduced modern expansion and doubled the size of the league. The “Original Six” played in one conference and the expansion teams played in the other. Since then, the NHL has continued to add teams and next season will add its 31st team when Las Vegas takes the ice.
Looking at how the NHL has tallied the number of Stanley Cups won, I get bothered by the fact that there aren’t any asterisks involved. Clearly, it’s a lot easier to win a Stanley Cup when you have a one-in-six chance as opposed to a one-in-30 chance.
Now before the NHL diehards get crazy on me, it’s not that I’m saying you need to add an asterisk every time the NHL adds teams, but I do think there should be a very clear recognition of Stanley Cups won before and since expansion.
The Penguins fifth cup tied them with the Edmonton Oilers for the second-most Stanley Cups won since expansion. Behind them are the New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings, who have each won four.
Stanley Cups Won Overall (Since 1917)
Montreal Canadiens: 24*
Toronto Maple Leafs: 13*
Detroit Red Wings: 11*
Chicago Blackhawks: 6*
Boston Bruins: 6*
Edmonton Oilers: 5
Pittsburgh Penguins: 5
Asterisk (*) indicates Original Six team
Stanley Cups Won Since Expansion in 1966-67
Montreal Canadiens: 10
Edmonton Oilers: 5
Pittsburgh Penguins: 5
Detroit Red Wings: 4
New York Islanders: 4*
*Islanders won 19 consecutive playoff series and four straight Stanley Cups
Looking at total Stanley Cups won overall, the Montreal Canadiens blow away everyone with 24. But the next team on that list is the prime example why these distinctions need to be made. The Toronto Maple Leafs are next with 13, however, none of those Stanley Cup championships have come since expansion started. All 13 of those championships came when there were eight or fewer teams in the league. The fact that there is no mention of that really bothers me.
The Islanders Dynasty (1980-83)
The distinction in which the Islanders won their four Stanley Cups was sensational. They set a modern-day sports record for most consecutive series won. From the start of the playoffs in 1980 when they defeated the LA Kings, 3-1 in the Preliminary Round, until they lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the 1984 Stanley Cup Finals, the Islanders won 19 straight playoff series.
Along with the impressive accomplishment of winning four straight Stanley Cups, they were also never challenged to a seventh game in any of the 14 best-of-seven series they played. They did, however, play two elimination games. They held off the feisty Penguins in the 1982 Patrick Division Semifinals and the Rangers in the 1984 Patrick Division Semis, both five-game series at the time.
Those Islanders teams featured five Hall of Famers—Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies and Billy Smith—but also featured NHL greats such as Bob Nystrom, Bob Bourne, Butch Goring, John Tonelli and the Sutter brothers, Brent and Duane.
Nystrom became a legendary figure in NHL history for scoring clutch goals. His four overtime playoff goals, including his game-winner in Game 6 of the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals, put him tied for fifth on the all-time NHL list. Bossy and Ken Morrow were also clutch for those Islanders teams, as they both had three OT goals.
Morrow was the first—and is just one of eight players in NHL history—to win an Olympic Gold Medal and Stanley Cup in the same year. He remains the only player to do so as a rookie and amateur.
The Isles dynasty also featured two more Hall of Famers off the ice: head coach Al Arbour and “the architect,” general manager Bill Torrey.
What the Islanders accomplished, and what teams like the Oilers and Penguins have accomplished, as expansion franchises, needs to be recognized properly.
The Islanders open training camp in a few weeks and it’s about time that the NHL recognized the greatness of their accomplishment and of the others teams that have reached the game’s highest possible goal in an era that truly measured endurance and determination.
Mark Kelly covers all New York Sports and the New York Jets for ProFootballSpot.com. You can follow him on twitter @CkmagicSports. A two-time Emmy Award Winner and former ESPN Researcher, Mark’s story of surviving cancer has touched many lives. Read more about Mark here or go to CKMagicSports.com and click on KNOCKOUTCANCER.