The New York Islanders - along with every other NHL team and many other businesses - have temporarily suspended operations due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. The Center for Disease Control and World Health Organizations have strongly advised the public to practice self-quarantining and avoid close contact and crowds to limit the spread of the virus. But that doesn’t mean we can’t gather in a virtual space and talk about old hockey players.
As long as the Islanders are on pause, we’ll run this series to give folks a place to chat, reminisce, and generally relieve the stress of the times.
Many Islanders fans know that Billy Smith was on the inaugural 1972-73 roster after being picked from the Los Angeles Kings in the expansion draft. But there was another goalie taken by the team in that same draft that played big minutes for that awful, unsuccessful collection of cast-offs.
Gerry Desjardins was 28-years old when he came to Long Island, and had been in the NHL for four seasons. Originally property of the Montreal Canadiens, we was traded to the Kings in 1968 in a deal that eventually netted the Habs Steve Shutt. Desjardins spent a year and a half as the Kings starter and racked up an “impressive” record of 26-58-14. He finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting in 1969.
He was traded to the Blackhawks in February of 1970 and promptly went 4-0. But he couldn’t get regular playing time behind Tony Esposito and was traded to the California Golden Seals in September of 1971. About a month later (no joke), Desjardins was traded back to the Blackhawks where he, once again, backed-up Tony O.
Which brings us to the Islanders. Taken from the Blackhawks in the same expansion draft as Smith, Desjardins started 44 games that season to Smith’s 37. Desjardins went 5-35-3, while the younger Smith had a comparatively sparking record of 7-24-3 (third goalie Gerry Gray went 0-1-0).
In Year Two under defensive coach Al Arbour, Desjardins went 9-17-6, which must have felt much, much better.
But by Year Three, he was gone, having jumped ship to the WHA’s Michigan Stags in 1974. Halfway through that season, the Stags folded, were purchased by the league and were moved to Baltimore, which isn’t anywhere near Michigan. When the 1974-75 season ended, so did the newly relocated Baltimore Blades.
Desjardins actually finished that season back in the NHL with the Sabres, to whom he was traded by the Islanders for the rights to defenseman Garry Lariviere. (Lariviere would never play for the Isles, staying in the WHA until he was merged with the Nordiques into NHL. He also played for the Oilers).
In Buffalo, Desjardins finally reversed a career known mostly for either losing tons of games for shitty teams or being a back-up. He went 29-15-11 in the regular season, then went 7-5 in the playoffs as the Sabres made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the Flyers. The next year, he won a career high 31 games at the age of 32, but the Sabres lost in the second round to... the Islanders.
[Shameless Plug Alert: There wasn’t a lot of love lost between Smith and Desjardins after the latter left the Islanders. Smith told reporters before their playoff series in 1976, “We got along okay until he sounded off after he left the club. He claimed he should have played more because he was better, things like that.” That and more bad blood in the next episode of Islanders Award Winners, coming early next month!]
An eye injury in 1977 ended his career for good. Gerry Desjardins finished his career with a record of 123-148-46.
His 14 wins might not be high on the Islanders all time list, but at least they didn’t move halfway through that first season.