I still remember the excitement I had the day Mike Milbury got hired as GM. Don Maloney had just gotten done running the team into the ground. Brett Lindros, allowing Glenn Healy to leave, His proclamation that Turregon was done and a defensive Islanders squad anchored by Kirk Miller was the future. It seemed that the Islanders with Maloney had hit rock bottom. Miller refused to even play for them despite being only three years removed from a Canadians – Islanders conference final. The Miller embarrassment was the last straw as it cost Maloney his job.
Enter Mike Milbury. He was already head coach, but everyone knew he was hired to take over as GM. With some impressive youngsters already on the Island and in the farm system (Ziggy Palffy, Todd Bertuzzi, Tommy Salo) it was going to be all about the future. A five year plan meant that by 2001 the Islanders would be ready to compete for the Stanley Cup. Finally the rudderless ship that seemed to be the Islanders had some direction.
As my Ranger friends let me know, every year their newest expensive addition to the roster was going to bring them the cup. But I could always strike back with just wait till 2001. The Islanders are going to get to their first Stanley Cup finals in 20 years in 2001. I can not underestimate the excitement I felt. I even somehow managed to convince my dad to take me to the 96 Islanders Draft Party. I remember cheering as we got JP Dumont, another piece of the future championship team.
I probably should have known nothing was going to go according to plan pretty early, when Milbury traded Dumont for the worthless bust Dimitri Nabokov. But I stayed calm, Milbury would eventually bring us to the promised land in 2001. The Islanders organization was continually rated as having the best prospects in hockey. A number of deals had finally given us our Goalie of the Future in Eric Fichaud.
The Goalie position had been a mess. Since the Islanders decided NOT to reward Healy with a contract after his 93 Run, the Islanders went through a laundry list of mediocre starting goalies. Ron Hextall, Jamie McClennan, Tommy Soderstrom all started and weren’t the answer. The top goalie in the Islanders system at the time, Tommy Salo, hadn’t exactly been spectacular during his NHL stints. So the future was in Fichaud. I remember I even got a Fichaud replica goalie stick.
Other trades slowly but surely got rid of older Islanders and brought in a large number of first round picks and young prospects. The future was looking bright, and I knew that in time the Islanders would be back in the playoffs and pushing for the Cup.
Obviously that didn’t work out. But I’ve been playing around with the idea of trying to write a book based on the 96-01 Islanders under Milbury. Interviews with some of the Isles players who were “In The Doghouse” and coaches who had to deal with Milbury’s insanity (Rick Bowness) and this looked like it might make a good forward. I just wanted to show that I didn’t always hate Milbury, and once thought he was going to help lead the team to the Stanley Cup.