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Maven's Memories: Why Not A (3-Cup) Dynasty

Stan Fischler examines the Islanders road to their iconic dynasty

by Stan Fischler StanFischler /

  "You win it once, you get greedy. You want to keep on winning it." -- Bryan Trottier

By definition, a hockey dynasty is accomplished when a team wins three or more Stanley Cups in a row.

After defeating Minnesota in the 1981 Final, the Islanders were just one Cup away from being the only American team in National League history ever to get the silverware Trifecta.

"Why not a dynasty?" shouted Bob Nystrom after sipping champagne for the second straight spring.

That was the vexing question confronting The Boss, General Manager Bill Torrey, whose other self-imposed query had a ring of Shakespeare's Hamlet: "To trade or not to trade?"

Both scholar and hockey humorist, Torrey and his Supreme Commander, Al Arbour, knew all about the twin curses of champions -- complacency and cockiness. With that in mind the dauntless duet debated whether some new faces should be inserted in the lineup.

"We had to at least consider shaking things up," said Arbour. "We were thirsting for that third Cup and wanted to go about the challenge the right -- call it smart -- way."

Looking ahead to imminent contract discussions with some of his stars, Bow Tie Bill was figuring things fiscally: "Now I have to earn my money."

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

Ah, yes, money was at the root of Torrey's priorities. Key contributors such as Nystrom, Dave Langevin and Mike Bossy were up for new contracts.

Ever fair -- and with typical good humor -- Bow Tie Bill put the Nystrom pact together. In mid-Summer -- also coinciding with Bob's 29th birthday -- Nystrom got a four-year deal -- plus as an extra-added attraction -- a whipped cream birthday cake.

"Bob gets the icing," quipped Torrey, "and I get the crumbs."

Next came Langevin who nearly fainted when he delightfully learned that he was locked in for five more Islanders years. "This contact is longer than I can conceive," blurted The Big Guy.

Bossy was another story; a much longer one. Negotiations ping-ponged through the Summer until Mike, his agent Pierre Lacroix and Torrey agreed on a $5 million pact covering seven years.

Next, Torrey perused his roster and agreed with a hit song of the time: "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing."

So, he swung a deal. First he signed hotshot Swedish defenseman Tomas Johnson. That done, Bill traded Bob Lorimer and Dave Cameron to Colorado for the Rockies' first pick in the 1983 Draft. (That gem -- er, steal -- turned out to be future Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine.)

Already loaded at center -- Bryan Trottier, Butch Goring, Wayne Merrick and Billy Carroll -- Torrey had been eyeing his 1980 first round (17th overall) draft pick, Brent Sutter.

"Bill kept strengthening.the team -- Brent being another example," said Bossy. "We were extremely confident without being arrogant. We were respected as champions because we never flaunted our success. And we relished the respect."

Still, there was a question about the new additions; especially Jonsson who had won Gold at the World Juniors as well as the World Championships and Olympics. Like his fellow countryman -- and defenseman -- Stefan Persson, Tommy proved an instant hit.

Meanwhile, Duane Sutter's kid brother, Brent, proved another eye-opener; The Kid was Torrey's latest antidote to complacency just as the general staff had hoped.

"When a 19-year-old shows up and starts bumping and grinding the way this kid has, it rubs off," Torrey asserted. "It's hard for the other guys not to do the same."

The team's other motivational source came from the coach -- in an ironic sort of way. The stickhandlers actually were playing harder for Radar because they all knew that he seriously considered retiring after the second Cup win. And Al didn't mean maybe either!

Radar had hit a wall and it was up to his pal, Bow Tie Bill to tear it down for him. For starters, Torrey gave Arbour plenty of time to talk things over with his wife, Claire, and his kids. Which he did. 

Torrey: "All I told him was that he's the best coach in hockey and perhaps can go down as the best in history. I think he reached the same conclusion. We all want Al to know he'll finish his hockey career here."

His players seconded the motion. "The best thing that happened to us," said Persson, "was Al deciding to stay. We want to play for Al because he makes you keep things in perspective."

They also kept themselves in first place and would give themselves more than a fighting chance for another title.

Bob Nystrom's question had now become the team's 1981-82 crusading theme:



1. STABILITY: He preserved the championship nucleus by successfully re-signing Bossy, Langevin and Nystrom.

2. INVIGORATION: To prevent rust, complacency and other forms of stagnation, Bow Tie Bill added fresh fuel with the likes of Tomas Johnson and Brent Sutter.

3. RETURNING RADAR: Arbour was dead serious about retiring. He felt coach's "burnout."
But Bill knew his pal still had the goods and, eventually, talked Al into staying with the team.

4. STRENGTH DOWN THE MIDDLE: No team in the league could match the Islanders quality -- and quantity -- when it came to loading up with crack centermen. Brent Sutter was the latest addition.

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