Hockey World: Underrated Goring made a big difference for Islanders
Veteran was the missing piece in their four-in-a-row Stanley Cup championship lineup
EDMONTON - On the day after the NHL trade deadline, it seemed perfectly fitting that Butch Goring was hanging around Rexall Place in his current duties as the New York Islanders TV colourman.
It was Goring, buried in the Los Angeles lineup playing behind Marcel Dionne, who may have started the deadline craze 34 years ago. He was the missing piece of the Islanders’ puzzle as they started their four-year Stanley Cup tear.
General manager Bill Torrey, the architect of that Islanders team, remembers the Goring trade like it was yesterday. Torrey, who is now helping Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon, confirmed that he had seriously considered Darryl Sittler, who was then playing in Philadelphia, but couldn’t make a deal with then Flyers GM Keith Allen.
So he went in another direction. Goring, who belongs in the Hall of Fame, turned out to be a master stroke. He won a Conn Smythe Trophy in 1981 and collected 888 regular-season points in 1,107 NHL games, as well as winning four Stanley Cups. He was the perfect complement to Bryan Trottier, who was being leaned on night after night.
“Sittler was a quality player. He had experience and he had size. I had a lot of respect for him,” said Torrey, who was dealing with the healthy rivalry aspect (Flyers vs. Islanders), and Philadelphia needed somebody to take some heat off Bobby Clarke.
“They weren’t comfortable moving Sittler.”
So Sittler missed out on winning the Stanely Cup in his Hall of Fame career.
Goring was totally under the radar and underappreciated in Los Angeles.
“All Mr. Cooke (Kings owner Jack Kent Cooke) talked about was Marcel Dionne,” said Torrey. “I’d seen Butchie the year before in a Boston-L.A. playoff. (Boston general manager) Harry Sinden had fired his coach (Fred Creighton) and he’d gone behind the bench. The Bruins were really tough, but you couldn’t intimidate Butchie. He was the best player in the series, killed penalties, you name it.”
Torrey also remembered Goring and his little Popeye-type helmet from another picture show a few years earlier — the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup championship in Springfield, Mass., where he played with a goalie named Billy Smith.
“But in L.A., Butchie was playing second fiddle to Dionne,” Torrey pointed out.
In the final analysis, the stars all aligned for Torrey. He had seen a young defenceman named Ken Morrow playing for the United States in the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid, N.Y., and thought he could maybe fill veteran Dave Lewis’s spot on the blue-line. And Mike Bossy had taken over as the No. 1 winger beside Trottier, pushing right-winger Billy Harris into a secondary role.
L.A. manager George Maguire jumped at the deal for Lewis and Harris.
“Dave Lewis was a top-four defenceman. He’d come right out of junior with the Saskatoon Blades as a third-round draft pick and Al Arbour loved him,” said Torrey. “But at the Olympics in Lake Placid, this bearded kid Morrow was always on the ice against the KLM line (Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov).
“Billy Harris was our first draft pick. He’d played junior with the Toronto Marlies. Steve Shutt was on the other wing. Good all-around player. He was young. He had size. He could score,” said Torrey.
“We’d just played a game against the Canadiens in Montreal and I got on the phone with Maguire. The deal was done just before the midnight deadline. I was talking on a pay phone.
“It wasn’t like today where the trades are announced on TV before you talk to the players,” Torrey continued. “It wasn’t like today where you have to know how much everybody makes. I mean I asked George about Butch, but (his salary) didn’t matter.”
Torrey told Maguire that he had to tell his players about the deal, but it wasn’t easy in the pre-cellphone days with Harris, who was a single guy on the town in Montreal.
“Dave was in his room. He was married,” Torrey said.
Goring was the perfect fit for the Islanders.
“I remember Butchie walking into our dressing room and him saying, ‘You guys don’t know how good you are,’ ” Torrey said. “He took over. Very smart player, very underrated career. You could play him with Clarke Gillies, with Bob Nystrom.”
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