It’s been far too long since the New York Islanders paid homage to their storied history with a proper number retirement. The time has come.
For the first time since 1993, the New York Islanders are Stanley Cup contenders. Yet they rank 30th in the NHL in home attendance. How do you fix such a problem? Give the fans something special to come out for.
Retire some numbers.
The Islanders’ story began in 1972 when New York Mets owner William Shea persuaded New York Rangers president Bill Jennings to allow a team to open up shop on Long Island.
Quickly, under the tutelage of general manager Bill Torrey and head coach Al Arbour, the Islanders became a force to be reckoned with. Between 1979 and 1984, the Islanders won four Stanley Cups and 19 consecutive playoff series’ — a professional sports record.
During the ‘Dynasty Years’, the Islanders boasted a number of future Hockey Hall of Famers: Bill Smith, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, Denis Potvin and Bryan Trottier. Not included on this list, but a tremendous player in his own right, is Bobby Nystrom.
Collectively, these players were key contributors to the Islanders’ success. As such, the Islanders retired their jersey numbers, starting with Potvin’s in 1992, and finishing with Trottier’s in 2001.
They haven’t retired a number since. We’ve got three players who are deserving of the honor—three players who would draw fans to Brooklyn.
Tonelli had a tremendous career with the Islanders; over eight seasons, he won multiple Stanley Cups and was one of the best left wingers in franchise history. He was known as a power forward of sorts, always battling in the corners or along the boards.
He was also extremely versatile: the Canadian played on three different lines, excelling on the first pairing with Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy, as well as the “Banana Line” — they practiced in yellow jerseys — with Wayne Merrick and Bobby Nystrom.
Recently, Thomas Henderson of Alpharetta, Georgia created a Change.org petition in support of retiring Tonelli’s number. It received over 550 signatures before being closed to the public. If that’s not a clear indication that his number should be retired, nothing is.
Perhaps the only player more deserving of this recognition is Pat LaFontaine, who played for eight seasons on Long Island. Drafted third overall in the 1983 NHL Draft, LaFontaine would lead all United States skaters in goals-per-game during his fifteen-year career, scoring 30 or more goals for eight consecutive seasons.
While he never hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup, he still contributed to a number of talented squads, like the 1983-84 team that lost to Edmonton in the Finals. He tallied thirteen goals in his first 15 games and represented the United States at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics.
Finally, former Devils and Flames head coach Sutter had a stellar career with the Islanders, notching 610 points in 694 games. He was named captain in 1987 after Potvin relinquished the role.
All in all, he won two Stanley Cups and appeared in three; he was ultimately traded to Chicago in exchange for Adam Creighton and Steve Thomas.
These three players — living legends in every sense of the term — deserve the recognition. They represent some of the greatest players in franchise history — a franchise that has had lots of great players.
If the Islanders want to guarantee themselves a sellout, and perhaps even more than that, they need to recognize their former stars. Looking at the Devils would be a good place to start.
After Patrik Elias retired this offseason, New Jersey immediately announced that his number would be headed to the rafters — ironically, before a game against the Islanders this coming February.
The front office recognized the opportunity to honor one of their best players, draw some excitement and possibly even sellout the arena. Sure, he was a slam dunk pick to honor, but can Islanders ownership really justify that honoring any of these three players isn’t?
At the end of the day, when the Islanders finally come around to acknowledging the contributions of their former stars, they should honor them for the right reasons.
That being said, there’s an economic and logistical case to be made for sending these players’ numbers up to the rafters — ASAP.