This is Part 5 of a 10-part series examining the longest Stanley Cup droughts in the NHL, and how close teams are to breaking through for their first championship in decades — or ever.
Previous articles: Senators, Sharks, Oilers, Flames
Although the New York Islanders have put some solid teams on the ice in recent seasons, the last few decades have not been kind to them.
Since the franchise brought home its last Stanley Cup, its points percentage (.495) ranks 29th in the NHL — ahead of just the Columbus Blue Jackets, Arizona Coyotes, and newly-formed Seattle Kraken.
The Islanders made the playoffs in 2022-23, and have brought back approximately the same team for the upcoming season, but they are not considered a serious championship threat in the near term. Only 12 teams have longer odds to win the Cup according to BetMGM, and of that group only the Winnipeg Jets appeared in the 2022-23 postseason.
Since Lou Lamoriello took the reigns on Long Island, the team has a respectable .582 points percentage (16th in the NHL) with six series victories. That’s not a bad record, but there’s a difference between making some noise in the playoffs and winning it all.
Here’s a look at the state of New York’s Stanley Cup drought:
How long has it been?
The Islanders have not won the Stanley Cup in 39 seasons.
How close have the Islanders come?
Fairly close, in a sense.
The year after the Islanders won their last championship (1982-83), they made it back to the Stanley Cup Final again. That series was not particularly close, though, as the Edmonton Oilers defeated New York in five games, outscoring the Islanders 21-12.
New York had swept the Oilers in the final last season, holding Wayne Gretzky to just four assists in the series — but The Great One and Co. got loose in 1983-84 and it’d be hard to claim that the Islanders were particularly close to winning it all.
Even if they’d earned a championship that season, they’d still be in the exact same place in this series on Stanley Cup droughts, the only difference would be the number of seasons reading 38, not 39.
Although New York was able to hold onto the biggest stars from its four-peat between 1979-80 and 1982-83, for the rest of the decade that core slowly weakened. Mike Bossy’s career came to a premature end due to injuries, Father Time diminished Billy Smith’s effectiveness between the pipes, Bryan Trottier’s scoring output declined in his late 20s and early 30s, and Dennis Potvin’s days of grabbing Norris Trophy votes wound down.
From 1984-85 to 1989-90, the team that dominated the early 80s went 212-212-56 and won just two playoff series. After that era came to an end, the Islanders spent plenty of time in the NHL’s cellar, making the playoffs just twice between 1990-91 and 2000-01.
In the 21st century, the closest calls for New York came during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons as they fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals on both occasions. They took their first series to six games and the second to seven — losing 1-0 in Game 7 in 2020-21.
The 2020-21 loss has to be especially tough to swallow as the winner of that series got to play a Montreal Canadiens club that had put together a 24-21-11 record during the regular season and just snuck into the playoffs.
One more win against the Lightning and the Islanders would have had a shot at a beatable opponent in a series between underdogs on unexpected runs.
How does New York’s championship prognosis look now?
The Islanders have built themselves a solid team whose success is largely predicated on players in their mid-to-late 20s who project to be useful for years to come. The team has extended much of its core, which means as the years go by many of the contracts on its books will look better and better, while rivals will have to re-up stars on more lucrative deals.
New York’s blue line includes players like Noah Dobson and Alexander Romanov, whose arrows are pointing up, and the addition of Bo Horvat gives the team more offensive punch than it’s had in recent seasons.
The Islanders’ floor is also solid thanks to the presence of elite goaltender Ilya Sorokin, who will be in town through 2031-32. As long as the rock-solid Russian owns the crease, this club has a chance to punch above its weight and make a surprising playoff run or two.
For all those positives, the Islanders have a lack of star power that has outgunned them in matchups with the NHL’s best teams. Mathew Barzal is an excellent player, but he never became the consistent game breaker it looked like he’d be following his dynamite Calder Trophy winning season. His contract is player-friendly and continues through 2030-31.
The presence of Horvat helps, but as it stands, this team is more of a collection of good players than a squad that needs to be considered an inner-circle contender. That doesn’t seem likely to change for the foreseeable future, either, as the team’s prospect pool isn’t very well-regarded — and its high level of competence should prevent high picks from coming its way.
New York looks like a team destined to hover around in the middle of the pack unless a surprising prospect or two breaks through or the front office manages to successfully star chase with, like the Vegas Golden Knights have done in recent seasons.
The Islanders should be able to avoid the type of misery that dogged them through much of the 1990s, but it’s tough to see their path to a title at the moment.