New York Rangers, Islanders
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Both the New York Rangers and Islanders have seen some great players this past decade, but what would a combined team look like?

The New York Islanders and New York Rangers have put forth contrasting decades. Initially, the Islanders were not great. They missed the playoffs five times and did not get past the second round three out of the four times that they did make the playoffs.

They are now one of the best teams in the NHL (thanks primarily to their head coach, Barry Trotz, who is the best coach in the league) but that definitely was not the case for the vast majority of the decade.

The Rangers were the Islanders’ antithesis. They are currently approaching the tail-end of an impressively quick rebuild, but they were one of the most dominant teams in the league for the majority of the decade.

They missed the playoffs just twice (the past two seasons) and their decade was marked by very deep playoff runs. They did not win the Stanley Cup, but did make a trip to the Final in 2014.

The past decade went very differently for the two teams, but both sides saw some talented players come through their ranks. Here is the combined all-decade team for both the Islanders and the Rangers (two lines, two defensive pairings, two goaltenders):

Line 1: Rick Nash-John Tavares-Mats Zuccarello

Rick Nash was the best left winger either New York team saw this past decade. Nash was traded to the Rangers by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012 and spent over five-and-a-half seasons in New York before being sent to the Boston Bruins.

The Rangers were making consistently deep playoff runs and needed some offensive help. Enter Nash.

Nash was an elite forward with the Blue Jackets and even led the league in goals in just his second NHL season (first full season). The Rangers were not fortunate enough to get the Columbus Nash; during his time in New York, he registered just 252 points in 375 games.

Nevertheless, he was still a very impactful player and played a key part in helping the Rangers make their deep playoff runs.

John Tavares is not only the best New York center of the decade, but he is also one of the best centers in the entire league. The Islanders drafted Tavares first overall in 2009, and he spent the first nine years of his career on Long Island, becoming the captain in 2013.

As a free agent, Tavares signed with his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018, which upset most Islanders’ fans. However, the impact he had on the league, his team and the fanbase is undeniable.

He never had fewer than 19 assists and 24 goals and established him as an elite 1C. Tavares finished his tenure with the Islanders having notched an impressive 621 points in 669 games. The little success the Islanders did achieve during his era this decade can be attributed primarily to Tavares.

He went to the playoffs with the Isles on three different occasions. Tavares was basically a point-per-game player in the postseason, notching 22 points in 24 playoff games.

Mats Zuccarello is already being recognized as the greatest Norwegian hockey player of all time and is one of the diamonds in the rough that the Rangers are so good at discovering.

An undrafted prospect, Zuccarello signed with the Rangers in 2010 and that would mark the beginning of an incredible era. Zuccarello is a very speedy skater who took advantage of his small stature and was an incredible playmaker for the Rangers. He had 352 points in 509 games played in New York.

There is no denying that Zuccarello is skillful, but he was so quick to become a fan favorite. Rangers fans were distraught when he was traded to the Dallas Stars last year and he received an unforgettable celebration upon returning to Madison Square Garden this year as a member of the Minnesota Wild. 

Line 2: Chris Kreider-Mathew Barzal-Ryan Callahan

Chris Kreider is a solid top-six left winger who has been consistently productive with the Rangers. The Rangers selected him 19th overall in 2009 and he has been great for them both on and off the ice.

He is one of the best players in the league at tipping in or redirecting goals and is a great playmaker. Kreider has 296 points in 499 games. He definitely still has some untapped potential, but it is difficult to complain about what he has done in his career.

What makes Kreider even more admirable in the eyes of fans is that he made his debut during the 2012 playoffs, when he scored an impressive five goals. Asking a rookie to do what he did is not easy, but the young Kreider came through.

He is also a fan favorite who has also been an important mentor to the Rangers’ youngsters. Unfortunately, Kreider will most likely be traded this season, unless he accepts a team-friendly contract, but he has been one of the Rangers’ most important players of the last decade.

Mathew Barzal is only 22 years old but is already on his way to becoming one of the best centers in the NHL and is already a two-time All-Star. The Islanders took Barzal with the 16th pick of the 2015 draft. He made his NHL debut in 2016, but only played in two games.

He played his first full season in 2017-2018, and he was excellent. He scored 22 goals and had 63 assists, allowing him to win the Calder Trophy. Thirty-eight games into this season, Barzal already has 16 goals and 18 assists, so he is on pace to at least set a career-high in goals and will most likely set a career-high in both categories.

Barzal is one of the fastest skaters in the league who uses his speed to create great scoring opportunities. He is also known for his exceptional puck-handling. First Tavares and now Barzal, the Islanders have been blessed with great centers this decade.

Loved by all Rangers fans, Ryan Callahan had quite the impact on his team, as the captain and as a skilled right winger. He was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2013 season but before that, he was a workhorse for the Rangers.

Callahan had 254 points in 450 games with the Rangers. He was never afraid to use his body and always did what he could to create scoring opportunities.

Unfortunately, injuries took a toll on his body, but Rangers fans will never forget what “Captain Cally” did for their team during this past decade.

Anders Lee, Mat Barzal
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

Line 3: Anders Lee-Mika Zibanejad-Josh Bailey

“You can’t spell Islanders without Anders.” Anders Lee has been the Islanders’ best left winger this decade as well as one of their most important players.

The Islanders picked him in the sixth round of the 2009 draft. Since making his NHL debut in 2013, he has had 281 points in 463 games with the Islanders. He was also named the Islanders captain after Tavares signed with Toronto.

Acknowledging the fact that he was taken so low in the draft, the Islanders can proudly say they found a gem in Lee. Lee is one of the most successful goal scorers in the entire league, but he is also a hustler.

He plays with heart and makes it a point to make the players around him better, as well. So far, he has done a pretty decent job of filling Tavares’ shoes.

Mika Zibanejad has established himself as one of the best centers in hockey and seems to only be improving. The Rangers acquired Zibanejad from the Ottawa Senators in 2016 in what could become one of the biggest trade steals in NHL history if he continues to play and improve as he is now.

He has 189 points in 236 games with the Rangers. He is fast, smart and even provides defensive upside. Zibanejad, who is undeniably the team’s 1C of the future and will most likely be the next Rangers captain, is a core piece of this young Rangers team that is doing a wonderful job of rebuilding.

Josh Bailey has spent his entire 12-year career with the Islanders and established himself as the team’s best right winger of the decade. Bailey has been consistently good since making his NHL debut but has gotten even better lately.

He scored a career-high 18 goals just two seasons ago and scored an impressive 16 goals for the second time in his career last year. Bailey is also having a great season, so far: he led the entire league in shooting percentage a month ago and currently has 23 points in 38 games, so far.

Bailey’s career can best be described as consistent and productive. He is not the flashiest of players and his numbers are not jaw-dropping, but his contributions to the Islanders cannot go unnoticed.

Line 4: Matt Martin-Derek Stepan-Kyle Okposo

Matt Martin has never been known for being a prolific goal scorer or a point accumulator, in general, but it cannot be denied that he is an impactful player.

Martin is a fantastic enforcer who plays a physical game; after all, he does hold the record for most hits in a season (382 in 2014-2015). Martin is also a fan favorite.

The Islanders selected him in the fifth round of the 2008 draft and he has spent nine seasons in New York. He spent two years in Toronto but then returned to the Islanders in 2018.

Martin makes his presence known, both on the ice and in the community, and any Islanders fan would say that he is a favorite of this decade.

Derek Stepan was a solid, consistent center for the Rangers during his seven-year tenure in New York. He never had a sub-44-point season (and that was during the lockout year in 2012-2013) and was great in the face-off zone.

He finished his Rangers career with 360 points in 515 games. Fans will never forget the overtime goal he scored in game seven in 2015 against the Washington Capitals that would send the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Final.

The Rangers benefited not only from Stepan’s skills and talent, but also from the depth he provided the team at center. It was unlikely that the Rangers would have re-signed Stepan, but it was still hard for fans to see him go when he was traded to the Arizona Coyotes. The void he left is still felt in a lineup that lacks depth at center.

Another fan favorite, Kyle Okposo, was one of the Islanders’ best and most impactful forwards of the decade. Okposo was drafted by the Islanders with the seventh pick in 2006 and quickly worked his way into the hearts of Islanders fans.

He now plays for the Buffalo Sabres, with whom he has been since 2016, but during his time with the Islanders, he had 369 points in 529 games. He was also important to the Islanders during the playoffs, especially during the 2015-2016 season when he had eight points in 11 games.

Okposo struggled at times, especially early on in his career, but he blossomed quite nicely with the Islanders and became a consistently productive and reliable player who always gave 100%.

Honorable Mentions: Carl Hagelin (LW), Jesper Fast (RW)

Carl Hagelin, who was selected by the Rangers in the sixth round of the 2007 draft, was a good player during his time in New York. Unfortunately, he was consistently viewed just as a player with a great deal of potential.

Hagelin was one of the fastest players to ever wear a Rangers sweater, and that was the defining aspect of his game. However, Hagelin was never surrounded by elite talent during his time with the Rangers, and that is what arguably held him back.

He was traded to the Anaheim Ducks and then to the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2015-2016 season, and his game improved almost instantaneously in Pittsburgh. He had better linemates and became quite productive in the playoffs, as well.

Who knows what could have been had the Rangers never traded Hagelin, but he still gave them a productive four years, notching 130 points in 266 games.

Jesper Fast is beloved by the vast majority of Rangers fans and has been a productive workhorse for his team. The Rangers alternate captain made his NHL debut in 2014 and has played a key role for his team since.

He is not a prolific goal-scorer but is a good playmaker and has been one of the Rangers’ best utility men. He has defensive upside, is great on the power play, and successfully does what he is told to do.

While this is most likely Fast’s last year with the Rangers, the impact he has had as a solid third-line winger is undeniable.

Artemi Panarin, The Bread Man T-Shirt

First Defensive Pairing: Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh would be a top-four defenseman on any team in the NHL, and he has his time as a member of the Rangers to thank for that. The Montreal Canadiens traded him to the Rangers in 2009 not long after he was drafted and the rest is history.

McDonagh was easily one of the most important players on the Rangers during this past decade, as he led the defense to several deep playoff runs. “Mac” was a fantastic defenseman with the Rangers who brought offensive upside, especially during the Rangers cup run in 2014.

His postseason numbers were incredibly good, both offensively and defensively. He scored four goals, notched 13 assists and had 48 blocks and 52 hits. Later that year, he was named captain of the Rangers. McDonagh was loved by Rangers fans for everything he brought to the table, including his skills as a player as well as his leadership.

This list would be flawed if it did not include McDonagh’s running mate in this defensive pairing. Dan Girardi will go down as one of the most beloved Rangers’ players ever.

Girardi was signed by the Rangers as an undrafted free agent in 2006 and would go on to spend ten years in New York prior to being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Girardi was a nobody who sacrificed everything and played his heart out to become a somebody.

It is telling when a player goes from being unrecognized to the top right-handed defenseman on one of the best teams in the NHL. Girardi’s physical and unrelenting style of play took a toll on his body (he is now retired because of it), but the grit and fortitude he put on display every single night for 10 years made fans appreciate him so much more.

The situation got ugly towards the end of his tenure in New York, especially as fans began to realize it was time to move on, but the hockey community cannot help but appreciate how Girardi played the game.

Second Defensive Pairing: Nick Leddy-Ryan Pulock

The Islanders acquired Nick Leddy from the Chicago Blackhawks in 2014 and he has been part of the core of the Islanders defense ever since.

He is known for his skating ability and puck-handling, plus he comes with some offensive upside. The 28-year-old has 205 points (43 goals and 162 assists) in 428 games played with the Islanders.

He is a solid and reliable player who has become an essential fixture in this defense. The Islanders have not had elite defensemen this decade, so fans appreciate what Leddy has done for the organization and continues to do, especially as he mentors the young defensemen who are trying to find their footing in the NHL.

Ryan Pulock has only played 200 games for the Islanders, yes, but the immediate impact he made on the defense when he was called up was unimaginably impressive. Pulock is a fantastic defenseman and will assuredly become one of the Islanders’ most important players over the next few years.

He has offensive upside and plays fantastic defense, including making big, clutch plays when his team needs them most. He has produced over 30-point seasons during the past two years and, by the looks of things, will do it again this year.

Before the playoffs began last year, analysts acknowledged that Pulock was going to be a huge factor for the Islanders if they hoped to be successful, and he did not disappoint. He only had one point, but he played fantastic defense that was difficult to miss.

Third Defensive Pairing: Marc Staal-Johnny Boychuk

Another homegrown player and now a veteran on the Rangers, Marc Staal has been one of the team’s defensive anchors during this past decade.

Staal has never really had an offensive side to his game (he only has 182 points in 863 games) and his career has been riddled with injuries. Nevertheless, his defensive play, highlighted by 1125 blocks, was important to his team as they made their playoff runs.

Staal’s time with the Rangers is most likely almost over and his most recent seasons with the team have been pretty ugly. Regardless, his importance to the team over the span of the last ten years is indisputable.

Alongside linemate Leddy, Johnny Boychuk has been a crucial anchor of the Islanders defense this decade. Traded by the Bruins in 2014, Boychuk became one of the Islanders’ most important defensemen and even improved with his new team.

Boychuk plays fantastic defense but also provides offensive production, primarily in the form of assists- he has 95 assists in 377 games with the Islanders.

Boychuk is great at what he does but additionally, at 35 years old, he has become an important veteran on this Islanders team and plays an important role in the development of the youngsters.

Henrik Lundqvist
ESNY Graphic

Goaltender 1: Henrik Lundqvist

What else is there to write about Henrik Lundqvist? He is the best player on this list and not enough can be said about his contributions to his team and to the sport of hockey. Lundqvist is one of the biggest draft steals in sports history. The Rangers selected him in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL draft and he ended up becoming one of the greatest goaltenders of all time.

He is still playing, but he is already the greatest Rangers player ever and is a sure-fire future Hall of Famer. Lundqvist has had quite the decade: the “King” has won a whopping 315 games and boasts a .916 save percentage and 2.41 GAA. He also took home hockey’s highest honor for goaltenders, the Vezina Trophy, in 2012.

He put up these numbers while playing behind some lousy defenses, so imagine what he would have done if he had more competent players in front of him.

At the beginning of this piece, it is mentioned that the Rangers made several incredibly deep playoff runs this decade. That is primarily thanks to Lundqvist.

His playoff numbers are absurdly good, and he is undoubtedly one of the best and most clutch playoff goalies ever. He has a career 2.28 GAA and .922 save percentage in 128 playoff games. All that is missing from Lundqvist’s historically good resume is a Stanley Cup, and Rangers fans are hoping their team can give him one before it is too late.

Goaltender 2: Thomas Greiss

He no Lundqvist, but Thomas Greiss has been a reliable constant for the Islanders since 2015. Since coming to the Islanders, Greiss is not known for being the team’s starting goaltender, especially not lately, but he is definitely one of the league’s best backups.

In 180 games with the Islanders, Greiss boasts a 2.66 GAA and .916 save percentage, all while compiling 96 wins. Islanders fans never worry when he is in net, which is not something most hockey fans can say with ease.

He has also been great in his few playoff appearances: he played in 11 games during the postseason of 2015-2016 (the year he joined the Islanders) and had a 2.46 GAA, as well as a .923, save percentage.

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