Matt Rothman The Hockey Writers
They Wore it Once: Islanders Players and Their Unique Numbers
The New York Islanders have retired eight numbers that will not be worn again. They also have 15 players who wore a number that has only been used once. Let’s take a look back at those 15 members and the impact they had on the team.
Number 31: Billy Smith
There is a reason why Billy Smith is the only player to wear number 31, and that’s because it hangs from the rafters at the Coliseum. He first wore that legendary number in the Islanders’ inaugural season in 1972-73 and went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career.
The Ontario born netminder is the all-time leader in wins with 307 for the Islanders and has nearly double the number of victories than every other goaltender in team history. To go along with that, Smith was part of the Islanders dynasty that won four-straight Stanley Cups and he won an additional 88 playoff games with the team.
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Unlike today’s goaltenders, Smith regularly finished the season with at least 20 penalty minutes. He challenged forwards that crashed his crease to fights and had a career-high 49 penalty minutes during the 1985-86 season. He was eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993 and was the first and only player ever to wear #31 with the Islanders.
Number 64: Sven Butenschon
From 2002-2004, the Islanders had a defenseman named Sven Butenschon who played 78 of his 140 career games on Long Island. At 6-foot-4 and 215 lbs, the German defender had one career goal with the team. He scored it against the New York Rangers in a game remembered for the two teams combining for 69 penalty minutes in a Rangers’ 6-3 win.
Number 66: Josh Ho-Sang
The Josh Ho-Sang tenure with the Islanders never seemed to work out. The problems started early when he overslept during training camp and then shifted to criticism from Pittsburgh Penguins fans for wearing Mario Lemieux’s number 66. The former first-round pick played in 53 career games and scored seven goals. He scored his first career goal against the Edmonton Oilers in 2017.
It’s ironic that when Ho-Sang was in the lineup, the Islanders went 32-17-4, including 9-1 last season. However, he requested a trade and was eventually re-assigned to the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL to attempt to get his career back on track for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.
Number 68: Ziggy Palffy
Ziggy Palffy was one of the best goal scorers in team history during the late ’90s. He had three consecutive seasons of 40 or more goals, but that came the year after he changed his number from 68.
In those seasons wearing the great Jaromir Jagr’s number, Palffy scored ten goals and 17 points in 38 games. The highlight of his time wearing number 68 came on the opening night of the 1994-95 season when Palffy scored his first goal of the season against the Florida Panthers. He followed that up with the game-winner at 11:46 of the third period to lead the Islanders to a 2-1 victory.
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The following season, Palffy switched to number 16 for the next four seasons and scored 158 goals before moving to play for the Los Angeles Kings, where he added another 150 goals and Pittsburgh Penguins for one season in 2005-06.
Number 75: Brett Lindros
Drafted ninth overall in the 1994 NHL Draft, Brett Lindros had a short career with the Islanders wearing number 75. He only played two seasons on Long Island before he was forced to retire after the 1996 season due to a series of concussions. His major concern after being drafted was his surgical knee. Still, Lindros had suffered concussions in juniors and then had two more head injuries in eight days in the NHL which forced the brother of Hall-of-Famer Eric Lindros to hang his skates up.
Number 79: Alexi Yashin
Alexi Yashin was often criticized for not living up to his ten-year, $85.5 million contract. He was the Ottawa Senators’ second-overall pick in 1992 and came to the Islanders before his eighth season in the NHL. He had his best season in his first with the team when he scored 32 goals but afterwards, his numbers significantly dropped off.
The Islanders ultimately bought out Yashin’s contract in 2007 after five seasons. He was owed 2/3’s of his remaining contract and was paid $2.2 million for the next eight seasons. His most memorable impact on the club was helping the Islanders get back into the playoffs in 2002 for the first time in eight years. In the seven-game playoff series against the Toronto Maples Leafs, the Russian scored three goals and had seven points.
Number 80: Kevin Weekes
Kevin Weekes was with the Islanders for a little less than one season, but he is the only goaltender in team history to wear a jersey in the 80s. Weekes played in 36 games and won ten. He started winning from his opening game with the Islanders against his future team, the New York Rangers, making 33 saves. He earned a shutout later that month at Madison Square Garden and then another one four days later against the Pheonix Coyotes. The longtime goaltender is now a broadcaster on the NHL network.
Number 82: Martin Straka
The Islanders acquired Martin Straka in a five-player deal that brought over Bryan Berard. He wore number 82 and scored two goals and had ten assists in just 22 games with the Islanders. He played 954 NHL games mostly with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who drafted him ninth overall and he later played for the Rangers.
Number 84: Mikhail Grabovski
The Islanders signed Mikhail Grabovski to a four-year, $20 million contract, but he only played 109 games after a handful of serious injuries. His highlight with the club came against the St. Louis Blues when he scored the overtime winner. He finished both his years in New York with nine goals and was a plus-3.
At the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft in 2017, the Islanders agreed that if the Golden Knights selected goaltender J.F. Berube, Vegas would take on the final year of Grabovski’s contract, who was unable to play due to a concussion, as well as acquire a 2017 first-round pick, 2019 third-round pick and Jake Bischoff for expansion considerations.
Number 86: Nikolay Kulemin
The main reason Nikolay Kulemin signed with the Islanders was to join up with his friend Grabovski. The two joined the club in the same year, 2015, but Kulemin produced at a higher level and lasted four seasons. He scored his biggest goal and the second-to-last ever goal scored in the old Coliseum in Game 6 of the Islanders’ playoff series against the Washington Capitals.
Kulemin finished his Islanders career with 37 goals but was more known for his defensive style. He was a terrific penalty-killer and scored four of his with New York shorthanded. Like Grabovski, Kulemin suffered a couple of significant injuries, including eventual surgery that kept him out for six months before he went on to play in the KHL.
Number 88: Brandon Davidson
Despite that the Islanders missed the 2018 Playoffs, they made a move for Brandon Davidson at the trade deadline. The defenseman played in 15 games and scored one goal against the Penguins. The team ultimately gave up a third-round pick and did not re-sign him in the offseason in one of the many questionable Garth Snow trades.
Number 92: Vladimir Malakhov
The Islanders selected Vladimir Malakhov in the tenth round of the 1989 NHL Draft. He currently has the honor of being the defenseman with the highest jersey number in team history at No. 92. Malakhov made his debut with the Islanders in the 1992-93 season and scored 14 goals. The following season, he registered ten goals and 47 points, nine more than his rookie season total. Malakhov was later included in the trade that sent Pierre Turgeon to the Montreal Canadiens.
Number 93: Doug Weight
Before Doug Weight was the Islanders’ coach, the veteran ended his fantastic NHL career on Long Island. He signed a one-year deal with the club in 2008 and went on to play three seasons in New York. Weight was named captain at the start of the 2009 season and registered his 1,000 career point by setting up Richard Park against the Coyotes.
He was awarded the NHL King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2011, as the player who “best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.” Following his playing days, he became an assistant coach for the club under Jack Capuano before replacing him as head coach in 2017. He was let go when Barry Trotz came in to replace him prior to the 2018-19 season.
Number 94: Ryan Smyth
Until the trade for Jean-Gabriel Pageau this winter, Ryan Smyth was the last significant move the Islanders made at a trade deadline. New York sent away a first-round pick, which was later used by the Edmonton Oilers to draft Alex Plante, along with Robert Nillson and Ryan O’Marra. In the 18 games he played, Smyth scored ten goals and had 15 points.
Unfortunately, the Islanders missed the playoffs and were unable to bring Smyth back the following season. To make matters worse, he had five straight seasons of scoring 20 or more goals, including 30 twice, after he left the Islanders and the Islanders went into a rebuild without their first-round pick and did not qualify for the playoffs again until 2012.
Number 96: Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Pierre-Marc Bouchard played in 595 games with the Minnesota Wild before he finished his career in New York after one season. The veteran only played in 28 games and scored four goals. He has the honor of wearing the highest jersey number in team history at 96.
Who Comes Next
Currently, the Islanders have 16 numbers that have never been worn. However, general manager Lou Lamoriello tries to have his players all wear jerseys under 30. For New York, all those numbers have already been worn, but if they can continue to retire numbers, it may force some players to wear higher numbers in the future.
The post They Wore it Once: Islanders Players and Their Unique Numbers appeared first on The Hockey Writers.
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