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Maven's Memories: The Butch Goring Trade

Stan Fischler recounts the trade deadline deal that made Butch Goring an Islander

by Stan Fischler StanFischler / NewYorkIslanders.com

Hold your breath, everyone, the Trade Deadline is just around the calendar -- and a Stanley Cup could hang in the balance.

On Monday we'll know who were the winners and losers; not to mention teams who choose to keep their rosters intact without a single move. 

This winter's unparalleled trade excitement is based on the large number of name free agents available. There's also a keen feeling among many that it will only take one deal to produce a Stanley Cup-winner.

Any Islanders fan who was around for the 1979-80 campaign knows that a Bill Torrey trade did just that; produce Nassau's first Stanley Cup. But first a bit of background. 

Following the 1978-79 season, the Islanders' general manager knew that major changes were necessary; something on the order of a roster upheaval. His coach Al Arbour knew it and so did the club's legion of fans. 

Yes, everyone was tickled over the club's outstanding two regular seasons -- 1977-78 and 1978-79. The Isles were so dominant that many critics freely listed them as Stanley Cup favorites both in '78 and '79. But that merely proved to be a build-up to a letdown.

In the spring of '78 Toronto knocked the Nassaumen out of the playoffs in seven games and a Spring later the Rangers did likewise in six contests.

"I knew we had the nucleus of a championship team," said Torrey, "but the roster needed some fixing."

And fix he did, trading worthy but much-beat-up defenseman Gerry Hart along with dispatching backliner Pat Price, who never had lived up to expectations. Their replacement was Dave Langevin, reclaimed by the Isles prior to the 1979 expansion draft, who had starred with Edmonton of the World Hockey Association.

Next to go was native Long Islander Rich Hansen. In return Bow Tie Bill re-acquired defenseman Jean Potvin, older brother of All-Star Denis Potvin.

"After (Bryan) Trottier I needed another center but a really good one was hard to find; at least at that time," Torrey added.

Torrey did the next best things; importing Sweden's MVP forward, Anders Kallur while signing 19-year-old Junior ace Duane (Dog) Sutter who had enjoyed a 50-goal season with the Lethbridge Broncos and had about the hardest handshake in North America.

Added to the merry-go-round was Clark Gillies' decision to forsake the captaincy. Denis Potvin received the "C" and in late February he received another present -- a new defense partner. 

Fresh from Uncle Sam's Gold Medal win at Lake Placid, lanky Ken Morrow signed on with the Isles and immediately was paired with Potvin. The round peg eased into the round hole.

As the Trade Deadline approached, Torrey knew he had to make one blockbuster move to relieve the scoring burden being carried by Trottier and his linemates, Gillies and Mike Bossy.

On March 10, 1980, moments before the deadline, Torrey pulled the trigger; and it was a shocker. He sent his first-ever draft pick, right wing Billy Harris, and one of his favorite defensemen, Dave Lewis, to Los Angeles for veteran center Butch Goring.

As Bossy revealed in his autobiography, "Boss," the trade news seemed to give his teammates a collective case of lockjaw. 

"When I walked into the dressing room," said Bossy, "I knew something big had happened. The faces on my teammates were too stunned. And there were Lewie and Harry both red-eyed from crying; both shocked beyond belief. Two of our best-liked guys."

But this was no time for friendship to intrude on winning hockey games. This was Bow Tie
Bill's "last piece of the puzzle."

An 11-year NHL veteran, the minuscule Goring skated like a jackrabbit with a tiny radar machine in his head. Butch's hockey sense was uncannily sharp and his candor just what the local newsmen appreciated. Asked why Torrey wanted him, Butch had the answer.

"It's obvious. The club have had Trottier and Bossy together and they'd have scored a lot of goals. But the team's success has been limited because then other teams shut down that line and the Islanders have a lot of trouble scoring," Butch analyzed. 

"They want me to play my game here and with the talent we have, whatever line I play on has the potential to take some of the pressure off the Trottier line. Frankly, I think we can win the Cup this year."

So, did Al Arbour. "The Goring trade -- bringing Butchie's smarts and spark -- finished off the product," the coach enthused.

That's precisely what Torrey was thinking because he knew that a sage late-season deal could, in fact, win a Stanley Cup; even if it were for only a single player. Bow Tie was aware that a similar exchange had taken place 16 years earlier and did, in fact, win a title.

(On February 22, 1964, Washington' s Birthday, Toronto's Punch Imlach traded five players essentially to get right wing Andy Bathgate; although Don McKenney was a throw-in. On April 25, 1964, Bathgate scored the Cup-winning goal for the Leafs against Detroit.)

Goring infused the lineup with the kind of fizz you get by opening a fresh bottle of seltzer. The dramatic change was evident to Doug Gould, the New York Post's beat writer. 

Gould: "A month ago the walk from the Islander dressing room to the ice must have seemed like the last mile at Sing Sing prison. Now it's like a journey the Isles can't wait to make."

Sure enough, the Goring metamorphosis immediately paid off with wins. The club had been 31-28-9 when the trade was made but in the final dozen matches, the Isles were a rip-roaring, undefeated, 8-0-4.

"With Butchie at center," said captain Potvin, "there's a sense of hope we didn't have before"

In a master genius stroke, Arbour placed Goring on a line with rugged Western Canadians, Gillies and Sutter. In the coming weeks, the coupling would play a major role in four consecutive series wins.

The surging sextet finished second in the division behind Philadelphia. It then proceeded to knock off Los Angeles, Boston, Buffalo and Philadelphia to install the Stanley Cup at Uniondale for the first time.

Goring would go on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy after the Isles second Cup triumph and star on all four championship clubs. (More recently he has been excelling behind the camera as MSG Networks analyst.)

And now you know why we're all fixated on the Monday deadline! One player could do it.

Is there another Butchie in the crowd? We'll soon find out.

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