With Wednesday’s announcement the Islanders will retire John Tonelli’s No. 27 on Feb. 21 and Butch Goring’s No. 91 on Feb. 29, it’s natural to wonder whether any other alumni will be so honored in the future.
The indication is yes, yes, yes.
Word from within the organization is that president and general manger Lou Lamoriello, who calls the shots, is supportive of the idea though there are currently no concrete plans or players proposed.
Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine (No. 16) and Bob Bourne (No. 14), one of 16 who played for all four Stanley Cup winners from 1980-83, would seem to be two strong candidates.
Tonelli and Goring’s inclusion will make eight of the core 16 with banners along with Denis Potvin (No. 5), Clark Gillies (No. 9), Bryan Trottier (No. 19), Mike Bossy (No. 22), Bob Nystrom (No. 23) and Billy Smith (No. 31). General manager Bill “The Architect” Torrey and coach Al Arbour also have banners raised.
Bourne played 814 of his 964 career NHL games with the Islanders from 1974-86. He’s fifth on the team’s all-time list of games played, eighth with 238 goals, 10th with 304 assists and ninth with 542 points. He’s also fifth with 16 shorthanded goals and tied for seventh with 37 game-winning goals.
“Bob Bourne was a superior playoff performer, especially during the run of four straight Stanley Cups,” said Pat Calabria, who covered the Islanders for Newsday from 1975-85. “His speed from left wing is legendary. His coast-to-coast goal against the Rangers, starting from behind his own net and weaving through the entire Rangers team, in the 1983 Patrick Division finals, well, that was a work of art. It was Picasso on ice.
“Anyone who saw Bob Bourne play will tell you he is right up there with the Islander greats,” Calabria added.
LaFontaine’s case is a bit more complicated. He twice left the Islanders’ organization under bad circumstances, once as a player as he forced a trade in 1991 after rejecting a contract offer and refusing to report, and once as an executive as he resigned in 2006 just six weeks after being hired as a special advisor to owner Charles Wang.
Plus, his number was retired nearly 14 years ago by the Sabres, where he played from 1991-96 before his concussion-shortened career ended with the Rangers in 1998.
LaFontaine joined the Islanders after playing for Team USA in the 1984 Winter Olympics as the Islanders reached their fifth straight Cup final but lost to the Oilers.
He’s tied for fifth on the team’s all-time list for goals with 287 and is seventh with 566 points, eighth with 79 power-play goals, ninth with 35 game-winning goals and fifth with seven hat tricks.
Perhaps most importantly, there’s been a thaw in the frostiness between LaFontaine and the Islanders. In fact, the relationship is now characterized as quite good with the new ownership group of Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky working hard to re-establish ties.
Down on the farm
Left wing Andrew Ladd will get a chance to prove he can still play in the NHL. The Islanders, with Cal Clutterbuck (wrist) out indefinitely, recalled the 34-year-old from their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport on Saturday after he had seven goals and two assists in 19 games for the Sound Tigers. That included two goals in his last game, a 3-2 win over Syracuse on Wednesday.
Ladd, in the fourth season of a seven-year, $38.5 million deal, is trying to recover after suffering injuries to each knee last season. He finished with three goals and eight assists in 26 NHL games and now has to show the organization he still has the speed and mobility to play in the league.
“He went down there with the rehab games and things didn’t go well at the beginning,” Lamoriello said. “He hasn’t played for a while. But he scored a couple of goals the last game he played and his attitude has been tremendous. He deserved to come up under these circumstances.”
Tonelli and Goring both said they see similarities between the current Islanders’ club and their Cup-winning squads and it stems from the strong leadership both groups had. Torrey and Arbour guided the Cup winners while Lamoriello and Barry Trotz hold those roles now.
“I think there’s a lot of similarities because it does start from the top,” Tonelli said. “It’s really clear to me everyone is buying in and everyone is playing for each other. As players, all of us were jumping over the bench wanting to play for Al, wanting to win for Al. I get the same sense with this group. They’re jumping over wanting to win for Barry.”
Added Goring, “That’s the kind of hockey that can win a lot of games. And then you never know.”
Picked from the pod
Goalie Thomas Greiss was featured in one segment of Episode 12 of Island Ice, Newsday’s Islanders podcast.
He detailed why he and his goalie partner, be it Semyon Varlamov this season or Robin Lehner last season, find it easy to play within the Islanders’ defensive system that limits odd-man rushes or feeds toward the crease. The Islanders’ aim is to keep most of the shots to the outside and limit the rebound opportunities.
“We might give up a good amount of shots at times, or more shots,” Greiss said. “But we take the middle away and we don’t give them rush chances, those high-percentage shots. We cut those way down. It’s successful. It’s more predictable for us. Less opportunities or less options for playing with the puck. We cut those opportunities way down so it makes our life easier.”
Games in a row
Captain Anders Lee and centers Brock Nelson and Mathew Barzal are creeping up the franchise’s all-time ironman list. Lee entered Saturday having played 232 straight games while Nelson was at 209 and Barzal at 196. Here are the franchise leaders:
Billy Harris – 576
Bob Nystrom – 301
Matt Moulson – 284
Denis Potvin – 262