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Maven's Memories: The 1972 Expansion Draft

Stan Fischler on the Islanders approach to the 1972 Expansion Draft and its legacy

by Stan Fischler @StanFischler / NewYorkIslanders.com

When William (Bow Tie) Bill Torrey was hired to be the New York Islanders architect by original owner Roy Boe, he knew that an extra bottle of aspirin would be a required item on his desk.

"One of my first challenges," Torrey recalled, "was going to be the Expansion Draft (June 6, 1972) and I knew what I was going to be up against. There were no illusions; no bargains.

"There were two fronts that I was battling on and that was Atlanta, the other expansion team that year, and the World Hockey Association, which already was telling everyone it would go after our players."

Nonetheless, Boe was as exuberant about the Expansion Draft as a kid in a candy store with unlimited spending money. Immediately, Torrey knew he had to put the brakes on Rootin' Tootin' Roy's expectations.

"I told Roy Boe to expect nothing from the Expansion Draft," Bow Tie Bill continued. "I told him that we would have to get rid of most of the players that we picked up in the Draft as fast as we could."

Torrey had a skeleton staff in the spring of 1972. Jimmy Devellano, still not officially on the payroll, wanted to be one of Torrey's scouts and already was eyeing the infant team's growth. 

Devellano had been fired by the Blues and saw an opening after a chance meeting with Torrey and Bill's right hand man, Ed Chadwick. Jimmy D would join the team later but he already was studying the prospects for the Expansion Draft. 

"I actually was there at the beginning," Devellano told me. "I knew who was available and who was not. We already had a challenger in Cliff Fletcher, who was running the new Atlanta franchise. Bill and Cliff each would select 21 players -- including two goaltenders to start their teams." 

Islanders 1972 Expansion Draft Picks
Pick Player Pos. Selected From Isles Stats
2 Gerry Desjardins G Chicago Black Hawks 80GP 14-52-9 
4 Billy Smith G LA Kings 675GP 304-230-104 1G 12A 13P 484 PIM 
5 Bart Crashley D Montreal Canadiens  
7 Dave Hudson C Chicago Black Hawks 132GP 14G 29A 43P 24 PIM
9 Ed Westfall RW Boston Bruins 493GP 105G 181A 286P 134PIM
11 Garry Peters C Boston Bruins  
13 Larry Hornung D St. Louis Blues  
15 Bryan Lefley D New York Rangers 70GP 3G 7A 10P 56PIM
17 Brian Spencer LW Toronto Maple Leafs 132GP 19G 40A 59P 155PIM
19 Terry Crisp C St. Louis Blues 54GP 4G 16A 20P 6PIM
21 Ted Hampson C Minnesota North Stars  
23 Gerry Hart D Detroit Red Wings 476GP 20G 108A 128P 783PIM
25 John Schella D Vancouver Canucks  
27 Bill Mikkelson D LA Kings 72GP 1G 10A 11P 45PIM
29 Craig Cameron RW Minnesota North Stars 187GP 35G 34A 69P 59PIM
31 Tom Miller C Toronto Maple Leafs 89GP 15G 18A 33P 25PIM
33 Brian Marchinko C Buffalo Sabres 42GP 2G 6A 8P 0PIM
35 Ted Taylor LW Vancouver Canucks  
37 Norm Ferguson RW California Golden Seals  
39 Jim Mair D Philadelphia Flyers 49GP 2G 11A 13P 41 PIM
41 Ken Murray D Buffalo Sabres 39GP 0G 4A 4P 59 PIM

 

Surprisingly, the Islanders acquired a hat trick of players with relatively impressive credentials. By far the best known of Torrey's picks was Ed (18) Westfall, a superb defensive forward who had played for the Boston Bruins Stanley Cup champion teams in 1970 and 1972

Currently Executive Vice President of the Detroit Red Wings, Devellano pointed out that the two new clubs did not have any of the advantages granted a few years ago to the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the last Expansion Draft. Ditto for the latest newcomer from Seattle, the Kraken.

"Bill had his homework cut out for him," Jimmy D recalled, "because -- along with the Expansion Draft -- he also had to pick the best available talent from the Entry Draft. Torrey won the coin toss and had the first pick at the Entry Draft."

(Torrey also had first pick of skaters in the Expansion Draft, while the Flames had first pick of goaltenders, as well as the first pick of inter-league draft.)

The Islanders general manager remained up almost all night prior to the Draft meeting on June 6, 1972. The WHA already had started ripping off NHL players and Bow Tie Bill had to guess who his foe, Fletcher, might pick.

"The players available back in '72 were mostly NHL rejects," Devellano pointed out. "And by the time the WHA got through raiding our players -- we had lost eight to them -- you can be sure Bill wasn't happy about it." 

For starters at the Expansion Draft both Torrey and Fletcher selected two goaltenders each. At the time, it appeared that Atlanta topped Long Island with its picks; but not for long.

The Flames went for guitar-playing Phil Myre and Dan Bouchard, both highly-regarded by critics at the time. Torrey's first choice was workhorse Gerry Desjardins.

Desjardins had been a solid goalie. He was originally in the Montreal Canadiens system before the team traded him to the Los Angeles Kings. 

"With the Kings," recalled Islanders beat reporter Tim Moriarty, "Gerry co-wrote a book called 'Rookie Goalie' with writer Bill Libby and the day it was released Gerry was traded to Chicago as Tony Esposito's back-up."

Devellano: "Of course nobody could have predicted it at the time, but Bill won the goaltenders derby with Cliff. Our second choice was Billy Smith who turned into a Hall of Famer.

"Smitty was rough around the edge early on," remembered another Hall of Famer, Bryan Trottier. "But, in time, he became the best of the very best when it came to money goaltenders."

Video: Stan Fischler Tours UBS Arena

Smith was an exception to the Expansion Draft rule. Torrey's other picks hardly had been -- or would ever be -- headliners; with two notable exceptions -- Ed Westfall and Gerry Hart.

Westfall was a certified pilot who had his own plane, a ton of NHL leadership experience and a pair of Stanley Cup rings, courtesy of the 1970 and 1972 Boston Bruins.

In some ways the Expansion Draft acquisition of Westfall was equal in quality and better in timing than that of Smith. "Eddie was ready to excel for us immediately," added Torrey. "With Smitty it took a bit longer."

Apart from his Cup experience, Westfall brought a whole bunch of assets. Writing in his definitive book, "Players," historian Andrew Podnieks raved about Westfall as an Expansion Draft prize.

"Eddie was a scorer, a checker, a shadow and one of the best penalty-killers in the league both in Boston and later with the Islanders," according to Podnieks. "The Islanders got another player based on another kind of situation than Westfall previously had in Boston."

A lesser Expansion Draft -- but still extremely useful -- pick was defenseman Gerry Hart, who originally cut his puck teeth in distant Flin Flon, Manitoba playing for the town's notorious Junior team, the Bombers. One of Hart's teammates was Philadelphia Flyers legend Bobby Clarke.

As an Islander, Hart turned into a rugged defenseman whose truculence made him an instant fan favorite. He already had played his first four years of pro with Detroit but made his most significant marks in Nassau.

Podnieks: "As an Islander, Hart proved to be a valuable addition although he was as unglamorous a defenseman as Denis Potvin would be smiles and spotlight.

"He scored as few goals as Mike Bossy scored many. But he rarely missed a game and went into the corners to fish the puck out with the same enthusiasm night after night."


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In a sense another of Torrey's other Expansion Draft picks proved useful to the franchise in the long run and that was a fine checking forward named Terry Crisp. 

"We liked him as a player," said Devellano, "but he was most useful to us as trade bait. Late in our first season, Bill sent Crisp to Philadelphia for (defenseman) Jean Potvin. Once we got Potsy, we knew we'd be able to sign his kid brother Denis.

"As just about everyone now knows, Denis became the foundation of this team. But having Crisp was what helped us get Johnny and, finally, Denis who eventually would become a Hall of Famer."

When the Islanders opened their first training camp in Peterborough, Ontario in September 1972 they had amassed 60 men -- give or take a couple of holdouts -- which they would need to sift through and whittle down to the final team that would take to the ice on October 7 in their season opener.

An exception among Torrey's lesser picks was forward Craig Cameron. "We got 19 goals out of Craig in his first season with us," chuckled Torrey, "more than we had expected."

As a youngster, Cameron had cups of coffee with Detroit, St. Louis and Minnesota. Those teams viewed him as a non-scoring utility checker. That changed for the better on the other hand in Uniondale.

A handful of Expansion Draft picks, Brian Marchinko (32 games), Ken Murray (39) and Jim Mair (49), played fewer than 50 games with the organization. Seven players - Garry Peters, Larry Hornung, Ted Hampson, John Schella, Ted Taylor, Norm Ferguson and Bart Crashley - never played a regular season game for the team. The now-defunct World Hockey Association had poached them from the Islanders.

"Looking backward at that Expansion Draft," Westfall concluded, "we got very few NHL caliber players. But the fans expected us to do our best; and that's what we did with what Bill got!"

Because of the dreadful dearth of talent, the Isles earned a nickname in that first (1972-73) season due to their propensity for cellar-dwelling.

"They began calling us 'The Hapless Islanders,'" Devellano recalled. "Well, that was true enough. But because we were in last place, it also meant that we picked first in the 1973 Entry Draft."

Then a pause and a wide grin. "That's when we got Denis Potvin -- and we would never would be 'hapless' anymore!"

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