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Islanders Expansion: 45 Years Later

By Cory Wright WrightsWay / New York Islanders

On June 21, the NHL will hold an expansion draft to fill the roster for the Vegas Golden Knights, the league’s 31st team. Like all 30 current teams, the New York Islanders will lose a player to this process.

Before we curse the expansion draft for taking one of the Islanders, it’s worth remembering that this is how the Islanders got their start. Tuesday (June 6) marks the 45th anniversary of the 1972 NHL Expansion Draft – the date when the Islanders tangibly became a team. At NewYorkIslanders.com, we look back at a landmark moment for the franchise.

1972 EXPANSION DRAFT:

The Islanders and their expansion cousins, the Atlanta Flames, each selected 21 players in the 1972 expansion draft from the 14 established NHL teams. While today’s 30 teams will lose one player, the 14 teams in 1972 each lost three.

In 1972, teams could protect two goalies and 15 skaters in the expansion draft. Once a player was selected, the established teams could move another player into the vacant protected slot and only one goalie could be claimed per team. The netminders also had to be selected first, so the first four picks in the expansion draft – including Billy Smith – were all goalies.

 

Atlanta had the first pick in the expansion draft and selected Phil Myre from the Montreal Canadiens, while the Islanders selected Gerry Desjardins second. The first pick in the expansion draft was a consolation for the Flames, as Islanders General Manager Bill Torrey won for the first pick in the 1972 Amateur Draft via coin toss, as well as the right to pick the first skater in the expansion draft – fifth overall.

The other consolation for the Flames was the first pick in the inter-league draft, where teams could draft minor-league professionals from each other. Teams were allowed to protect 19 players (two goalies, 17 skaters) in the inter-league draft.

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

HIGHLIGHTS:

Of the Islanders’ 21 expansion picks, only Smith played on the dynasty teams. Ed Westfall – the Islanders’ first captain – was the highest-scoring player of the draft, scoring 286 points (105G, 181A) in 493 games with the team before retiring in 1979, one year before the Isles won their first Stanley Cup.

While the 2017 expansion draft will be broadcast live from the NHL Awards in Las Vegas, the 1972 expansion draft was done with little showmanship. Even the players didn’t immediately know they’d been drafted. Westfall was reportedly informed by a customs agent that he’d been selected by the Islanders.

“I remember saying to myself jokingly, ‘I wonder which team I’ll end up on. A few days later, when I was clearing customs, I could see my children waiting beyond the glass with sad, forlorn faces. Little did I know it was because Daddy was now a New York Islander.”
– Ed Westfall to Sports Illustrated in 1982

Gerry Hart – the Islanders 12th pick in 1972 (23rd overall) – also left a mark on the franchise and a physical one on their opponents, racking up 783 penalty minutes, 10th all-time in the Isles record books. For the record, Smith is 22nd in Isles all-time penalty minutes with 484 – tops among goalies.

 

NOT ALL BECAME ISLANDERS:

Smith and Westfall were the two most impactful Islanders of the draft, but 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.

A handful of others: Bill Mikkelson (Washington – 1974), Brian Lefley (Kansas City – 1974), Dave Hudson (Kansas City – 1974), Gerry Hart (Quebec – 1979) were claimed in later expansion drafts.

LEGACY OF THE EXPANSION ISLANDERS:

The expansion Islanders took their lumps in the 1972-73 season, going 12-60-6 (30 points), allowing 347 goals – nearly 100 more than the league average and 27 more than the previous record – and finishing last in the NHL. While the Flames got off to a better start with a 25-38-15 record (65 points), the Islanders secured the first-overall pick in the 1973 amateur draft and selected Denis Potvin, a move that paid off with tremendous dividends.

And while the expansion roster wasn’t filled with marquee names or long Islanders tenures, some of the players Bill Torrey selected were pieces of trades that brought in key pieces of the dynasty teams.

EXPANSION DRAFT 101

Bart Crashley, the first skater taken in the draft (5th overall), and the rights to Larry Hornung, were traded to Kansas City in 1974 for Bob Bourne. Bourne won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders and is eighth all-time in team scoring with 542 points (238G, 304A).

Terry Crisp, selected 19th overall from the St. Louis Blues, was traded for Jean Potvin in 1973. Potvin was eventually dealt in 1978 with JP Parise in a trade that included Wayne Merrick, who won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders. Potvin re-signed with the Islanders as a free agent in 1979 and played two more seasons.

Brian Spencer, drafted 17th overall from the Toronto Maple Leafs, was traded in 1974 for Doug Rombough. Rombough was then part of the deal that brought in JP Parise, who scored the series-clinching goal in the Islanders’ first playoff series win over the Rangers in 1975. Parise was later part of the deal that brought in Merrick.

QUOTES:

“We spent our time and effort mostly on kids. I told [Roy] Boe, ‘O.K., you’re going to go through the expansion draft and get 19 problem children. Either the guys can’t play, they’re too old, or they have personal problems. Second, your product is going to be constantly compared to the [New York] Rangers,’ who were then the second-best team in hockey. Also, we were in the East Division with Montreal, Boston, the Rangers and four other established teams. We were guaranteed last place. But there was a ray of hope if we were patient because everyone in hockey knew that the amateur draft for the next few years was loaded. What other choice did we have?”
– Bill Torrey to Sports Illustrated in 1982

“The Boston Bruins were the worst team in the league when I joined them in 1961 and they built that team to be the best team in hockey. Then I joined the New York Islanders and we were the worst team in the league. As an Islander, we broke all the negative records I set as a Bruin, but over the years I saw the Islanders franchise develop into the best team in hockey.

It’s very rewarding to know that you were a part of two franchises going from the worst to the best. It all happened so fast. It was 18 years of my life, but when I look back at it, it was very quick the way things happened and unfolded.”
– Ed Westfall to NewYorkIslanders.com in 2011.

(Reprinted with permission of NHL.com) (NHL.com photo)

 

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