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Islanders' bid for fifth Stanley Cup highlights 1983-84 hockey season

By Nick SeitzSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / November 1, 1983



What with expansion and free agentry, the age of the dynasty in sports is over - except, of course, for the New York Islanders. They are threatening to become an island unto themselves.

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With the 67th National Hockey League season now under way (its opening weeks overshadowed as usual by the World Series and football), the best team of our time is launching its bid for a fifth straight Stanley Cup. The goal seems an entirely conceivable one, too, even though only one other team - the Montreal Canadien juggernaut of 1956-60 - has ever accomplished the feat. In other major team sports, only the dominance of the old New York Yankees and Boston Celtics outdoes that of the Islanders.

And this is a relatively young aggregation of hockey talent. Goalie Billy Smith, the MVP of last spring's playoffs, is the lone key performer over 30. Center Bryan Trottier, winger Mike Bossy, and defenseman Denis Potvin are looking forward to five more top years at least.

''Everyone here has a certain role to play, and when everyone does his job the machine runs smoothly,'' says Captain Potvin. ''No one thinks he's more important than anyone else. As long as our attitude remains as disciplined and unselfish as it's been the last four years, we should continue to be the team to beat.''

The publicity department is doing its part by coming up with a new slogan for each Stanley Cup defense. This year it's ''drive for five.''

General Manager Bill Torrey and Coach Al Arbour, the movers and shakers behind the Islander dynasty, kept the roster intact last season, but now may have to find room for unusually promising young worthies like goalie Kelly Hrudey, defenseman Gord Dineen and forward Pat LaFontaine, who is occupied with the Olympic team until February.

Edmonton, which lost the Stanley Cup final to the Islanders in four straight games, has the likeliest chance to challenge them again. The Oilers are young and purposeful and remind many analysts of the Islanders in their formative years. (The schedule being bloated as it is, the two teams do not meet until December.)

Edmonton scored an NHL record 424 goals in 1982-83, the redoubtable Wayne Gretzky racking up 71 of them. Gretzky, who has set or tied three dozen league scoring records, also had 125 assists in continuing to establish himself as the greatest offensive force the game has seen.

Grant Fuhr slumped in goal for the Oilers last season, but seems to have regained his flair now.

The top goalie in the league last year was Pete Peeters, who led Boston to the best regular season record. The Bruins subsequently lost free agent defenseman Brad Park to Detroit. Though the Bruins will miss the way Park could control the tempo of a game, they turned around and signed the two best defensemen available, Jim Schoenfeld and Guy LaPointe, to go with the powerful Ray Bourque.

If the Bruins can generate more scoring at left wing to complement the offensive output of centers Barry Pederson and Peter McNab and right wing Rick Middleton, they could threaten the Islanders.

Buffalo, loser in the Adams Division finals to Boston on an overtime goal in the seventh game, is optimistic. Like the Bruins, the Sabres are looking for more ammunition at left wing, where they obtained 28-goal scorer Real Cloutier from Quebec and where they are experimenting with veteran defenseman Lindy Ruff.