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Maven's Memories: Comparing the Isles and Oilers Dynasties

Stan Fischler compares the 1980-84 Islanders with the 1984-88 Oilers

by Stan Fischler StanFischler /

 The 1980-84 Islanders vs. the 1984-88 Oilers would have been the NHL's best show -- Mike Bossy

There is one arresting hockey question that has -- 1. An answer that's unequivocally positive; 2. An answer that 51-49 in terms of debating a "Who's Better?" 3. No answer at all. As for the question, it is as follows:

Which team was better -- the Islanders four-Cup dynasty of 1980-83 or the Oilers Wayne Gretzky-led Oilers which -- for the most part -- dominated the NHL from 1984-1988?

Obviously, if you rooted for New York, the answer is simple -- the Nassaumen.

And should your favorite team happen to be located in Edmonton, the pick is a no-brainer. That's how close the verdict must be because the teams were qualitatively so nearly equal while their difference in fabric was so extensive. 

Who's better? First the comparative points for each side:

Video: 1979-80 Isles become second expansion team to win Cup


1. ONE AND ONLY: They succeeded in an area that no other team in history can claim. They won 19 consecutive playoff series beginning in 1980 and concluding in 1984 when Edmonton dethroned the four-Cup champs during the Final round.

2. A SECOND ONE AND ONLY: No American team but the Islanders have won four consecutive Stanley Cups. None of the others have won more than a pair. Furthermore, only two Canadian sextets -- Montreal, 1956-1960; 1976-1979 -- have won four or more titles.

3. VERSATILITY: There never has been an expansion team with the wide range of styles employed by Coach Al Arbour's outfit. "They could play you any way you wanted to play them," said legendary coach Herb Brooks. "They could finess with anyone; or grind with anyone."

4. STARS: They featured one of the all-time snipers in Mike Bossy; the best, two-way hitting center in Bryan Trottier and the best clutch goalie in Bill Smith. Give or take Eddie Shore, Doug Harvey or Larry Robinson, Denis Potvin ranks among the top two-way defenseman in hockey annals.

5. SUPERIOR SUPPORT STAFF. Hall of Famer Clark Gillies, left wing John Tonelli, center Butch Goring and defensemen Ken Morrow, Stefan Persson and Dave Langevin all were remarkable in their assorted roles. Tonelli, Goring and Morrow each have Hall of Fame credentials although they're not in the Shrine.

6. THE UNDERRATEDS: Reliables such as Bob (Sudden Death) Nystrom, Bob Bourne, Duane and Brent Sutter, Dave Lewis, Bob Lorimer, Billy Carroll, Lorne Henning, Anders Kallur and Garry Howatt each played integral roles as aces less the headlines accrued by the Hall of Famers

7. BEST COACH: Goalie Glenn (Chico) Resch, who played for many mentors and studied them all during his long career, rates Radar Arbour as the best-ever at his profession.

8. BEST G.M.: Bow-Tie Bill Torrey turned a nondescript first-year team into a powerhouse faster than any executive that major league hockey has known.

9. LONGEVITY AT THE TOP: Sensational as the Toe Blake-coached five-Cup Canadiens may have been, the Habs had to win only 10 consecutive playoff series to capture their quality quintet of Cups. Scotty Bowman's four-Cup Montrealers required 13 to reach their limit. That's six series less than Arbour's Isles.

10. STABILITY: Taking their cue from leaders Bill Torrey and Al Arbour, Islanders players kept levelheadedness to new and better dimensions. This enabled them to do something more than the more erratic Oilers ever could accomplish -- nineteen consecutive playoff series victories.

Video: 1981-82 Isles sweep Canucks to win third straight Cup


1. ONE AND ONLY: No expansion team -- American or Canadian -- ever could match the Oilers feat of winning a total of five Stanley Cups -- 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990. This accomplishment is unlikely to ever be matched.

2. SECOND ONE AND ONLY: For sheer offensive fire power, the Oilers combination of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Craig MacTavish and Esa Tikkanen remains as superior a group as any NHL unit in any era.

3. FIREWAGON HOCKEY: Speed, speed and more speed was the essence of the Oilers game. Defense was an afterthought on Glen Sather's teams. Which wasn't wrong because they still got two points in a 7-6 win.

4. STARS: Because of The Great One, Messier and the Oilers razzle-dazzle game, the media spotlight tended to glow brighter in Edmonton than Uniondale. Gretzky became the face of the NHL; a factor that tilted attention to Alberta rather than Nassau.

5. SUPPORT STAFF: Kevin McClelland, who scored the game-winning goal against the Islanders at Nassau in Game One of the1984 Final, was typical of third line Edmonton assets. Randy Gregg, Charlie Huddy and Kevin Lowe provided solid defense behind Paul Coffey. Dave Hunter, Dave Lumley and Mike Krushelnyski were among the solid citizens to back Gretzky, Inc.

6. THE UNDERRATEDS: Jeff Beukeboom, Kelly Buchberger, Kent Nilsson, Reijo Ruotsalainen, Marty McSorley and Craig Simpson were among the solid citizens who delivered when the Messiers and Coffeys had off-nights.

7. COACH: No question that Glen Sather was the right coach with the right team at the right time for Edmonton. Spunky, indefatigable and savvy, Slats was a key element leading the Oilers Cup marches until 1998-90 when John Muckler took over behind the bench. In the end Sather simply lacked the overall coaching greatness of an Arbour.

8. G.M. The same holds for Sather, the manager, as above; he was a winner but nothing like the overall executive genius of Bowtie Bill Torrey.

9. LONGEVITY AT THE TOP: Edmonton, despite its five Cups, never was able to put more than eight consecutive series wins together. Comparing that with the Islanders nineteen-straight and it's a no-contest in favor of the Nassaumen.

10. STABILITY: Not unlike Bobby Orr's Bruins, the Oilers overall quality was somewhat diminished by a lack of team discipline that was inherent in the Isles character. That alone explains why The Big Bad Bruins never could even put two Cups back to back and why the Oilers made it two in a row; and that's all.

Video: 1982-83 Islanders win fourth straight Stanley Cup

CONCLUSION: Bossy put it this way: "A best-of-seven between their best and our best would have gone seven games, two or three of which would have probably gone into overtime. Who would win? I'd take us in seven."

New York Times hockey analyst Allan Kreda cites the nineteen consecutive series victories along with a unique "attitude" that marked the Isles superiority.

"Their absolute refusal to lose was always the defining quality of that streak," says Kreda. "Bob Nystrom always said that the Isles collectively felt that they owned the Cup and that some team would have to physically wrestle it away from them. They surely proved that by winning every series between losing to the Rangers in the 1979 semi-finals and finally the Oilers in the 1984 Final."

MY VERDICT: Simple. Putting all the above elements together, the Isles win on a record never to be equalled or broken; 19 consecutive playoff series victories. The Oilers made it to eight in a row. End of debate!

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