You might think a team that set the NHL trade deadline’s gold standard that helped magnify the annual event’s importance would have a rich history of making great trades on deadline day.

Unfortunately for New York Islanders fans, that is not at all the case. Unlike their two local rivals – the Rangers and Devils – the Isles have been relatively quiet at the deadline since making their franchise-changing 1980 trade for Butch Goring. That is partly because the team was often out of the NHL playoff picture by the time the deadline arrived. Indeed, many of its best deals focused on draft picks rather than roster players.

This year’s Islanders are in the thick of a playoff race, which might have made a last-minute deal more likely. No major trades took place at the deadline, however, which is hardly a bad thing. It’s sometimes just as well for teams to stand pat and show faith in a group of players who have already put themselves in playoff contention.

A look back at 43 years of Islanders deals since Goring’s arrival reveals some interesting surprises. As it turns out, after narrowing all that data down to a list of the top 10 trades, some players manage to show up on the list more than once.

How many trade deadline deals were made in Islanders history?

Beginning with the trade for Butch Goring that cemented an Islanders dynasty in 1980, the team has made more than 50 total trades within 48 hours of the NHL trade deadline.  On the actual deadline day, there have been 39 trades. The Islanders set their single-season record of four deadline-day trades in 2015. Entering this season, though, the Isles had made only five such deals in the seven years since then and did not make use of the deadline at all in 2023.

Only two of these top 10 trades led to Stanley Cup championships, but a few others brought in players who would help the Islanders make deep playoff runs. The Isles’ top 10 is especially notable for the draft picks acquired and management’s subsequent ability to make good choices at the draft table or use these assets in other trades. 

Ranking the Top 10 Best New York Islanders NHL Trade Deadline Deals of all time

  1. Dean McAmmond and San Jose's 2009 first round pick from the Ottawa Senators for Mike Comrie and Chris Campoli – Feb. 20, 2009

This trade took place a full 12 days before the 2009 NHL trade deadline, but getting a  first-round pick in any late-season deal is always significant. In this case, however, it wasn’t the pick itself, but rather what the Isles did with it, that makes this a top-10 deal.

The team didn’t sacrifice much in Comrie and Campoli. The former, a center, was in his second season with Islanders after joining team as an unrestricted free agent, and his contract was about to expire. The latter, a defenseman was an NHL regular with the Isles for four seasons but had been going downhill after his strong rookie year.

McAmmond was a rental, since the 35-year-old winger was headed for unrestricted free agency and would end up signing with the Devils. He helped the Islanders with two goals and nine points in 18 games to close out the 2008-09 season.

The real prize was the draft pick – No. 26 overall in the first round. At the 2009 draft, the Islanders repackaged the pick for a trade with Columbus – sending this choice – along with No. 37 overall in the second round and No. 62 in the third round – to Columbus for the No. 16 overall first-round pick. The Islanders then traded No. 16 and a fourth-round choice (No. 77) to Minnesota, enabling them to move up to the No. 12 overall choice.

They spent that new first-rounder on defenseman Calvin de Haan, who would play for  six seasons in the Islanders organization after completing his junior career. As an Islander, de Haan played 304 NHL games, scoring 81 points. That included full seasons in every year from 2014-15 to 2017-18. He went to the playoffs twice and was on the 2016 squad that became the first Islanders team since 1993 to win a playoff round.

In a strange twist of fate, two other first-rounders from the 2009 draft eventually joined the Isles even though the team had once held the picks other teams to select them. Future Islanders Nick Leddy (No. 16) and Kyle Palmieri (No. 26) were taken that year by Minnesota and Anaheim.

  1. Steve Konroyd and Richard Kromm from the Calgary Flames for John Tonelli – March 11, 1986

John Tonelli was an Islanders icon. The man whose No. 27 hangs in the rafters alongside fellow Stanley-Cup winning Isles legends, spent eight full seasons with the team and ranks ninth on its all-time scoring list with 555 points in 594 games. His career playoff totals were 28 goals and 83 points in 113 games.

Without Tonelli, four Stanley Cup championships and five straight trips to the Cup Final would not have been possible. His heroics late in Game 5 of a 1982 first-round playoff series against the Penguins saved the Cup streak. He also assisted on Bob Nystrom’s winning OT goal that started the streak in 1980.

So how could the Islanders trade John Tonelli on deadline day? And how could the trade be considered a good one – at least on paper -- at that time?

Tonelli, 29, had to go for the same reason the Islanders needed to let go of some of their other aging stars by 1986. The dynasty was over, and the biggest names in the “Core of the Four” were all on the downside of their career.

Prior to 1985-86 season, Tonelli had irritated management by becoming the first player in Islanders history to skip training camp while holding out for more money. He got a lucrative deal that would take him into unrestricted free agency, and only two years remained in that contract when the trade was made.

Tonelli still had something left, of course. He immediately helped Calgary reach the 1986 Cup Final vs. Montreal. He also had two more 30-goal seasons in Los Angeles before retiring in 1992.

In exchange for Tonelli, the Islanders got two promising young players in Konroyd, 25, and Kromm, 21. Konroyd, a defenseman, was having a career year with seven goals and 27 points in 59 games for Calgary. Kromm, a left wing, had broken out for a career-high 20 goals and 52 assists the previous season.

What was good in theory wasn’t as great in practice. Both players never lived up to their promise, although they spent considerable time as Islanders.

Konroyd went on to play two full seasons (169 total games) on the Island before being traded to Chicago in November 1988.

Kromm was great at the start on a line with Hall of Famers Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier, as he scored seven goals and 14 points in 14 games to close out 1985-86 regular season. He returned for two more full seasons and remained in the Islanders organization for seven years, mostly in minor leagues. Although he saw action in 183 regular-season and 22 postseason games, he was plagued by injuries..

The Tonelli trade could have worked out much better, but it was the right move at the right time nonetheless.

  1. Brad Isbister and 1999 third-round pick from the Phoenix Coyotes for Robert Reichel, 1999 third-round pick, and Ottawa's 1999 fourth-round pick – March 20, 1999

Understand one thing in analyzing this trade – the 1999 NHL Entry Draft pool had little going for it except the presence of twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Most other players in that draft – even first-round picks – were destined to be duds at the NHL level.

When the Islanders made a trade with Phoenix three days before the 1999 deadline, the bulk of the deal involved draft picks. Given how negligible those picks would prove to be, it was really more of a straight-up deal to get a young Brad Isbister from the Coyotes in exchange for veteran Robert Reichel.

Reichel, 27, had played in the NHL for nine years, including two 40-goal seasons with Calgary in early 1990s. The Islanders had made a good trade for him two years earlier (see below), but he was in a different situation by 1999.

In his first full season on the Island, Reichel notched 25 goals and 65 points. His pace was similar in his second season – 19 goals and 56 points through 70 games when traded to Phoenix – but he was on an expiring contract and wanted a lot of money.

Reichel’s financial demands caught up to the Coyotes. After proving his worth with 13 points in 13 games to end the 1998-99 regular season, he opted to spend two years at home in Czech Republic rather than re-sign with Phoenix. He finally returned to the NHL when the Coyotes gave up on negotiations and traded him to Toronto in 2001.

Isbister was a nice addition. Only 21 at the time of the trade, the former 1995 third-round pick joined Islanders as a full-time NHL player for the 1999-00 season and remained with team for four years. He scored 22 goals and 42 points in his first season, played in the 2002 playoffs, and had career Islanders totals of 67 goals and 135 points in 247 games when he was traded to Edmonton at 2003 deadline.

  1. Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the New Jersey Devils for A.J. Greer, Mason Jobst, 2021 first-round pick, and 2022 fourth-round pick – April 7, 2021

How can one of the better deadline trades in New Jersey Devils history also make the Islanders’ top 10 list?

It all comes down to how much value one attributes to the Islanders’ remarkable run to the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals. In this case, there was a lot of value. The Islanders didn’t just reach the ECF for an improbable second consecutive year, they also gave their fans a sense that they had emerged as an NHL force at a time when the rival Rangers were struggling.

After so many years of frustration, the Islanders had finally turned the corner for real, and the Palmieri-Zajac acquisition was a huge spark.

Palmieri, a center still with the team two years later, had eight goals and 17 points in 34 games for New Jersey when he was traded five days before the deadline. He would add just two more goals and two more assists to his 2020-21 regular-season totals in 17 games with the Islanders before catching fire in the 2021 playoff run.

Then 30 years old, Palmieri scored seven goals in the Islanders’ 19 playoff games and was a big factor in the surge that ended with a Game 7 loss to Tampa Bay. After the season, the Isles rewarded him with a four-year deal. Injuries, however, have limited him in the first two years of that contract.

Zajac was 35 when the Isles got him and had gone 11 years since his last 20-goal season. His veteran presence helped the team in its playoff run, however. Playing on an expiring contract, he appeared in 14 playoff games during the 2021 run that brought the Islanders one game away from the Stanley Cup Final. He retired after the season.

In Greer and Jobst, the Islanders gave up players who had not panned out at the game’s highest level. The first-round pick they sacrificed turned out to be No. 29 overall, and the Devils got a good prospect out of it, but the opportunity to go to the Stanley Cup semifinals for a second consecutive year was worth losing that pick, since there are no guarantees when it comes to the draft.

  1. Robert Reichel from the Calgary Flames for Marty McInnis, Tyrone Garner, and return of Calgary’s 1997 sixth-round pick – March 18, 1997

Marty McInnis had a long NHL career that began as an eighth-round draft pick of the Islanders. He would go on to play 796 NHL games for four teams, scoring 170 goals and 420 points.

McInnis was a player, for sure, but by the time the Islanders gave up on him – after five full NHL seasons – his best years were already behind him and he was heading for restricted free agency. Trading the 26-year-old at the deadline wasn’t crazy, particularly considering all the value he had already given them as a low-cost eighth-rounder.

During his NHL breakout season with the Islanders -- when he scored 25 goals and 53 points in 1993-94 -- McInnis literally peaked as a hockey player at age 23. By then, he had also played on two Islanders playoff teams. He was still playing well in 1996-97 with 20 goals and 42 points in 70 games but was expendable. He would then last only one full season in Calgary before being traded to Anaheim. He played his last games for his hometown Boston Bruins, retiring at 32.

By giving up McInnis, goaltender Garner (whose entire NHL career lasted three games), and a low pick obtained for Bob Sweeney, the Islanders used the 1997 deadline day to land Reichel, a two-time 40-goal scorer with seven years of NHL experience. With two years still left on his contract, Reichel paid off immediately by scoring five goals and 19 points in his first 12 games with the Islanders. Prior to his arrival, the Islanders were 24-36-10. They closed the season 5-5-2 with Reichel in the lineup.

Returning for 1997-98, Reichel played all 82 games and finished second on the team in scoring with 25 goals and 65 points. He also 19 goals and 56 points in the first 70 games of 1998-99 before being traded to Phoenix when his contract was due to expire. He left the Island with impressive totals of 49 goals and 140 points in 164 games.

  1. San Jose's 2010 second-round pick from the Ottawa Senators for Andy Sutton – March 2, 2010

This seemed like a rather inconsequential trade just one day before the 2010 deadline. Second-round picks are nice, but much less reliable than first-rounders. In this case, the Round 2 pick turned into a gem.

The Isles had no problem giving up on 34-year-old defenseman Andy Sutton, who was on an expiring contract after three years with the team. He played 135 games with the Islanders, scoring seven goals and 20 points. Two years later, he was out of the NHL.

In return, the team got an asset it could use in a much more important deal. At the NHL Entry Draft on June 25, 2010, the Islanders packaged this pick (No. 58 overall) with their own second-rounder (No. 35) to trade for Stanley Cup champion Chicago’s No. 30 overall pick at the end of the first round.

At No. 30, the Islanders made the most of their new draft pick – selecting forward Brock Nelson, who remains a major part of the team 13 years later.

Now his 10th full season with Islanders, Nelson has 232 goals and 447 points in 740 games. He also has 23 goals and 41 points in 67 playoff games. Nelson scored nine goals and 18 points in the Islanders' magical 22-game run to 2020 Eastern Conference Finals -- tying for the team’s goal-scoring lead and finishing second in points. A year later, he had seven goals and 12 points in 19 games as the Isles returned to the ECF

Nelson has scored at least 20 goals seven times -- including a career-high 37 last year. An NHL All-Star this season, he has already reached career-highs in assists and points.

  1. Matt Mangene, 2014 third-round pick, and 2015 second-round pick from the Philadelphia Flyers for Andrew MacDonald – March 4, 2014

Andrew MacDonald wasn’t one of the greatest players in Islanders history, but he sure produced a great return on investment. MacDonald, a 27-year-old defenseman, was a former Isles sixth-round pick who had been a regular with the team for four seasons. At the time of the trade, his career NYI totals were 17 goals and 89 points in 295 games.

MacDonald had an expiring contract and about to become an unrestricted free agent, but the Flyers were happy to get him. They re-signed him to a six-year, $30 million deal after the trade, and he remained in the organization for the next five years, which were often plagued by injuries. He would leave hockey after scoring 72 points in 291 Flyers.

The Islanders made the most of what they got for MacDonald -- using the 2014 third-rounder (No. 78 overall) to select their current All-Star goaltender in Ilya Sorokin and then packaging the 2015 second-rounder (No. 37 overall) into a trade that yielded longtime defenseman Johnny Boychuk.

The deal for Boychuk, made on Oct. 4, 2014, saw the Islanders send the 2015 second-round pick and their own 2016 second-rounder to Boston. Boychuk, 30, had a year left on his Bruins contract. He would go on to become an Islanders regular for six full seasons (440 games) before retiring with an eye injury in 2020.

As for the third-round pick, the Islanders cashed it in for young KHL goalie Sorokin, who would spend six more years in Russia before entering the NHL in 2020. Now in his third season with the Islanders, he has been the team’s No. 1 goalie for the past two years. As of the 2023 trade deadline, his NHL career record was 59-42-17 with a 2.34 goals-against average and.924 save percentage.

Giving up MacDonald one day before the 2014 deadline was a stroke of genius.

  1. Mike McEwen and Jari Kaarela from the Colorado Rockies for Glenn Resch and Steve Tambellini – March 10, 1981

Exactly a year after making the most important trade-deadline deal in their history, the Islanders made another huge move that paid off with championships.

Longtime Islanders goalie Glenn “Chico” Resch was one of the most popular figures in the team’s nine-year history to that point, but at age 32, he was no longer part of the Islanders future. When it came time to trade him, the Islanders were ready.

The first star goalie ever produced by Islanders, Chico joined the team on a regular basis in 1974-75 and played seven full seasons. A No. 1 regular-season goalie from 1975 to 1980, he made the NHL All-Star Second Team in both 1975-76 and 1978-79.

Unfortunately, Resch couldn’t deliver in the playoffs like Hall of Famer Billy Smith, with whom he shared the nets. Smith took over from Resch in the postseason, and after a Stanley Cup championship run in 1980, it was clear who was the top dog was. The Islanders also had a bright future with major-junior star Roland Melanson in the pipeline.

Resch, who had an expiring contract, was 18-7-5 at the time of the trade. He immediately became Colorado’s No. 1 goalie and held that job for the next five seasons, including the first four in New Jersey after the Rockies relocated and become the Devils. Better off away from the Island, Resch went on to play nearly 300 more NHL games before retiring in 1987.

Tambellini wasn’t quite as fortunate in his career. The 22-year-old, who had been the Islanders’ first-round pick in 1978, was in his second NHL season at time of trade. He had 19 goals and 36 points in 61 games after scoring only 13 points in 45 games as a rookie the previous season. Although he did not play in the 1980 playoffs, Tambellini qualified to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.

An instant success in Colorado, Tambellini scored score six goals and 18 points in 13 games with Rockies to close out the 1980-81 season. He returned to Rockies/Devils for two more productive years, scoring 29 and 25 goals, but was out of the NHL after the 1987-88 season. Much more successful as aTeam Canada executive, Tambellini would ironically go on to see his son Jeff play for the Islanders from 2006 to 2010.

In return for Resch and Tambellini, the Islanders picked up 24-year-old McEwen. Already well-known to Islanders fans, the former Rangers third-round pick had played three seasons for the Blueshirts before going to Colorado in the Barry Beck deal.

An outstanding puck-mover, McEwen had career-highs in goals (20) and points (58) with the Rangers in 1978-79 and a career high 40 assists with Colorado in 1979-80.  After joining the Islanders, he played 13 regular-season games before scoring six goals and 14 points in 17 games of 1981 Stanley Cup run. Among defensemen, only Denis Potvin had more points en route to the Islanders’ second straight championship.

McEwen returned to score 10 goals and 49 points in 73 games during his first full season with Islanders in 1981-82 and was part of the team’s then-record 15-game winning streak. He contributed 10 more playoff points in the Isles’ 1982 Cup run and claimed a third Stanley Cup ring in 1983.

  1. Darby Hendrickson, Kenny Jonsson, Sean Haggerty and 1997 first-round pick (No. 4 overall) from Toronto Maple Leafs for Wendel Clark, Mathieu Schneider, and D.J. Smith – March 13, 1996

With one week to go in the 1995-96 trading season, the Islanders pulled off a blockbuster deal with the Maple Leafs that sent Wendel Clark back home to Toronto and rising star Kenny Jonsson to Long Island.

Clark got most of the attention in this trade. The Isles had obtained him in a 1995 three-way deal that sent Claude Lemieux to Colorado and Steve Thomas to New Jersey. Clark was already a legend in Toronto, scoring a career-high 46 goals and 76 points just two years earlier before going to Quebec in another blockbuster involving Mats Sundin.

With the Islanders, Clark played less than a full season, scoring 24 goals and 43 points in 58 games. His contract was expiring, and the Leafs wanted to bring him home for his last two seasons before hitting unrestricted free agency.

Schneider, 26, had come to the Islanders as part of the 1995 deadline deal that sent Pierre Turgeon to Montreal. A 1993 Stanley Cup champion, he also had an expiring contract and was not part of the Islanders’ long-term plans, even though he had an impressive 56 points in only 78 total games with the team. A career journeyman, Schneider ultimately retired after playing 1,289 games over 13 seasons with nine NHL teams.

Hendrickson, 23, was a rookie at time of trade. He closed out the regular season with the Islanders but was traded back to Leafs seven months later. The 20-year-old Haggerty, meanwhile, had played only one NHL game for Toronto before being traded. He joined the Islanders organization and spent two years in AHL, but never found a permanent home on the Island --  playing only 10 NHL games over four years with the franchise.

Jonsson made the deal worthwhile. The highly-regarded young Swedish defenseman, then only 21, was in his second NHL season with one year left on his contract. He finished up the 1995-96 regular season with Islanders and returned to spend the next eight full seasons with team before leaving NHL for native Sweden in 2004 at age 29.

Jonsson’s last three Islanders teams all made the playoffs from 2002 to 2004. He had his best season in 1997-98, when he scored career-high 14 goals and 40 points in 81 games. Overall as an Islander, Jonsson tallied 57 goals and 232 points in 597 games.

The real story of this trade should have been the 1997 first-rounder. The Islanders brilliantly used the pick to draft future Hall of Famer goalie Robeto Luongo. Unfortunately, with the chance to draft Rick Pietro at No. 1 overall in 2000, the Islanders sent Luongo to Florida in a deal their fans would just as soon forget.

  1. Butch Goring from the Los Angeles Kings for Billy Harris and Dave Lewis – March 10, 1980

This late-night trade on the eve of the 1980 trade deadline gave the Islanders what they had sought for five years – a No. 2 center to play behind Bryan Trottier.

Goring was the final piece of the puzzle in what became a dynasty. The Islanders went on to win four consecutive Stanley Cup championships and set the seemingly unbreakable NHL-record of 19 straight playoff series victories in the process

In forward Billy Harris and defenseman Dave Lewis, the Islanders parted ways with two of their longest-serving players. Harris, 28, was the first player drafted by the Islanders and a member of the 1972-73 inaugural team. He had scored at least 20 goals in each of his first six seasons and was a one-man show before Trottier’s emergence. Over his first seven years with the team, he played in 576 consecutive games, which remains the team record more than four decades later.

Lewis, a 26-year-old defenseman, had been with the Islanders since their second season and was a big part of their emergence from expansion afterthought to NHL juggernaut.

Goring jumped into the Islanders lineup less than 24 hours after the trade and closed the regular season with 11 points in 12 games. He was dynamic in the 1980 playoffs and even better in 1981 -- when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after scoring 10 goals and 20 points in 18 postseason games.

As crucial as it was to get Goring, Islanders players still felt the absence of their friends Harris and Lewis when they hoisted their first Stanley Cup less than three months later. The two former Isles would have to watch their ex-teammates raise the Cup three more times without them.

“It was a trade I would rather have not had to make," Islanders general manager Bill Torrey told reporters after completing the deal. "It wasn't easy. I go back a long way with Billy and Dave. And by this trade, I'm not pointing a finger at them. Our problems weren't their fault."

Harris, in particular, did not react well to the trade and remained angry at the organization for many years. He eventually accepted his role in Islanders history, recognizing himself as the “sacrificial lamb” needed to bring glory to his former team.

Parameters of Rankings

The key factor in ranking this list of great New York Islanders trade deadline deals was how much the team gained in the short term -- by enjoying a longer playoff run than might have been expected – or how much it gained in the long term by adding a player or draft pick who made the team better for many years. This list represents a combination of both factors with a bit more weight given to players whose addition led to more overall team success in the time period after they were traded to the Islanders.

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