In the 2008-2009 National Hockey League season the two worst teams in the league were the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning. New York had only 61 points while Tampa Bay was not much better with 66.
Futility becomes a positive when draft day comes along. The worst team picks first and the Stanley Cup champion picks last.
If the Islanders and Lightning were going to move up in the standings, they could not make a mistake with such high draft choices. They didn’t.
New York chose John Tavares from Mississauga, Ontario with the top pick in 2009. Tampa Bay took Victor Hedman from Sweeden. The year before, it was the Lightning with the top pick, who chose Steven Stamkos.
Those two will meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time on Wednesday night. The Islanders come to Amalie Arena for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Lightning.
Tavares became the foundation for the rise of the Islanders, who had sunk to the depths of despair with their last-place finish. This was a proud franchise that had won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980-83.
New York had missed the playoffs in 10 of the previous 14 seasons. One of those rare appearances was an opening round loss to the Lightning in 2004 as Tampa Bay began its Stanley Cup-winning run.
Tavares, the team’s captain, has risen to become a dominant player. He was a first team selection on the All-Rookie Team in 2010 and a first-team All-Star pick after the 2015 season.
This season, he amassed 33 goals and 37 assists for 70 points as New York won more games (47) than in any season since 1984. The captain put on a legendary performance to lead the Islanders past Florida in the first round.
Among his five goals against the Panthers, one tied Game 6 in the final minute, and another came in the second overtime to win the series.
Among those looking to keep Tavares in check is Hedman, who has enjoyed a steady, if not spectacular, career with the Lightning. His 47 points were the third most on the team, but he had a plus-21 rating. That means the Lightning were more likely to score than give up a goal when he was on the ice.
Hedman and his teammates will have their hands full trying to slow down Tavares and a very talented and determined Islander team.