At 15 in our countdown comes the Islanders first-ever entry draft pick, selected first overall in 1972, Billy Harris. Harris plays an important role in Islanders history on both the beginning and tail-end of his Islanders career.
He would lead the Islanders in scoring in their inaugural year with 28 goals and 50 points, and he would finished second in the two following seasons with only Denis Potvin surpassing him (yes, a defender led the team in points those years).
During the 1975-76 season, Harris hit a career high in goals and points with 32 and 70, respectively. By that point there was some help around him, as the team had added Jean Potvin, Bryan Trottier and Jude Drouin, all who had 60+ point seasons in addition to Harris and Potvin. Harris would be an iron-man for the Islanders during these years, playing 576 consecutive games during the 70s,a streak that still stands as the franchise high water mark today.
In 75-76, the Islanders would make the third round of the playoffs for the second season in a row, falling to the Canadiens in the semi-finals. They would lose in the third round again the next year, were bounced in the first round in 77-78 and failed again in the second round in 78-79 as they earned a reputation for playoff failure, similar to what the San Jose Sharks are today.
But that would all change in 1979-80 for the team as we all know. However, Harris wouldn’t be around to see it. Harris played the majority of the 79-80 season for the Islanders, 67 games in all, but was becoming less of a factor as he had only racked up 30 points to that point.
On March 10, 1980, GM Bill Torrey would trade Harris to the Los Angeles Kings with Dave Lewis for Butch Goring in what would be known as the trade that “started” the Islanders dynasty, with Goring being the final piece of the puzzle. The trade would spark a run through the end of the regular season where the Islanders were undefeated with Goring in the equation:
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.
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.”
For Harris, it was just about the end of the line in his career. He would be traded again from Los Angeles to Toronto in November of the same year, the beginning of the 1981-82 season, only six months later. He would be swapped back to Los Angeles for cash during the 1983-84 season and would retire at the end of that year.
For Harris, the trade is still understandably a touchy subject:
Billy Harris (1973-1980)
Brad Dalgarno (1991-1996)
Bryan Smolinski (1997)
Ted Donato (1999)
Tom Chorske (1999)
Brad Isbister (2000-2003)
Jeff Tambellini (2006-2010)
P.A. Parenteau (2011-2012)