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Goring trade still gold standard for deadline deals

by John Kreiser
Every year teams with championship dreams wheel and deal at the trade deadline, hoping to find the missing piece that will turn them into a champion.

Butch Goring knows what it feels like to be that missing piece -- 31 years ago he was involved in the best trade deadline deal of all time. The deal that sent Goring from Los Angeles to the New York Islanders has become the gold standard of deadline deals because it led to four Stanley Cups.

"As we now know, you can say it was a pretty good trade," he told with a laugh. "It's because we didn't just win one; we started a dynasty of some sort."

Goring was a 29-year-old center for the Los Angeles Kings as the 1980 trade deadline approached, and had no idea he might be headed anywhere. He had a long-term deal and was a fan favorite because of his speedy, scrappy style of play.

But the New York Islanders, who had finished first in the regular-season standings in 1978-79, were showing the aftereffects of their semifinal-round upset loss to the Rangers. They played in fits and starts, plagued by the hangover from the previous spring.

GM Bill Torrey refrained from making any major moves until the trade deadline, when he dealt two long-time Islanders, forward Billy Harris and defenseman Dave Lewis, to the Kings. Coming to Long Island was Goring, a player Torrey hoped would give the Islanders someone who could center a second scoring and take some of the heat off the "Trio Grande" of Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies.

Even though he was going from a middle-of-the-pack team to one with championship aspirations, Goring's first reaction to the deal wasn't positive.

"I had signed a six-year deal with the Kings -- I think I was in the second year -- so I really wasn't expecting to go anywhere. At least I was hoping not to go anywhere," he said. "My initial reaction was one of anger and disappointment."

Once he took a look at the team he was going to, though, he felt better.

"I got here and I realized I was going to an awfully good hockey club," he said. "That made it a lot easier to handle. This was a team that had a chance to win a Stanley Cup. Once I was able to get the emotions out of it, I realized it was a tremendous opportunity. In L.A., we were pretty much a .500 hockey club."

Goring was helped by the fact that he had skated with two of his new teammates earlier in his career.

"I had played with (goaltender) Billy Smith and (defenseman) Jean Potvin in Springfield (AHL) -- we actually won a Calder Cup trophy there in 1971," he said, "so at least I knew a couple of people. That made the adjustment a little bit easier.

"I actually didn't have much conversation with Bill or Al (Arbour, coach) when I got here. I was 29 years old; there were not going to be any surprises on my end. I knew the organization; I knew how they played. I knew Al Arbour's style, how he coached. I knew what he expected. On the other side of the coin, they knew what they were getting. I had been around for a while and established a certain style of play -- and results. Both parties were like, 'Let's go do this.'"

Goring fit in so well on the ice that the Islanders didn't lose another regular-season game after the deal, winning eight of their final 12 games and tying four others.

"Coming out here and having that success initially -- for me, that made it a much easier adjustment to be accepted," he said.

The on-ice success made it a lot easier for Goring to fit in on a largely home-grown team that generally had eschewed major deals -- Harris was the first draft pick in franchise history in 1972, and Lewis was a second-rounder in 1973. Both had spent their entire careers on Long Island, and the decision to trade them set off shock waves.

"People forget about the guys who left -- Lewis and Billy Harris were very good players," said Goring. "More than that, there were a lot of friendships on this hockey club. It's not always easy to be accepted into a team, regardless of your abilities. It's about the friendships that are acquired over the years. Two guys left, and for the guys who stayed behind, it was tough for them.

"You've got to be accepted by your teammates, so you've got to be able to fit into their swing of things. Then you'd like to have some success, both as an individual and team-wise. If you can do all those things, it makes the trade much easier."

Three months after the deal, Goring was a Stanley Cup champion. By the next spring, when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, he was a fan favorite. He still is -- he's currently the Islanders' TV analyst.

Goring is well aware of how his fortunes -- and those of the Islanders -- were altered by one trade.

"I'm not saying that trade was the reason we won four (Cups), but the fact of the matter is that they made a trade and they ended up winning four," he said. "That's why it's been such a much talked-about trade, and I'm happy to enjoy the moment every year."
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