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.
Playing in the NHL for 17 years is an incredible accomplishment. I would assume that an infinitesimally small percentage of players get even close to that number. Some of the best players in history have had careers far shorter than 17 seasons. To play for that long, you need to be pretty reliable and pretty healthy (or least, reliably come back from injuries).
Defenseman Gerald Diduck spent 17 seasons in the NHL, six of which were played in Islanders blue and orange. It was the longest single stop of a career that took him to eight different teams. Was he pretty reliable and pretty healthy? To be honest, I don’t know. But I’m assuming he was since you don’t hang around in the NHL for 17 seasons by accident.
Drafted in the first round - 16th overall - by the Islanders in the 1983 draft, Diduck went straight from the WHL’s Lethbridge Broncos to the NHL in 1984. He played 65 games for the Islanders as a 19-year-old, and scored two goals and eight assists for a team coming off a fifth straight trip to the Stanley Cup final and 19 consecutive playoff victories. He also wasn’t shy about chirping the vets, as evidenced by this delightful exchange that was reported in the New York Times, of all places.
‘’Yeah,’’ said Smith, ‘’in my day rookies never talked to reporters. They had nothing to say. They just watched and listened.’’
Diduck, after listening quietly to the good-natured kidding, finally responded.
’’In your day, Smitty?’’ he said. ‘’Tell me, when was that, before or after they invented television?’’
Diduck didn’t play at all in that season’s playoffs and for the next two seasons, he would spend more time in the AHL for the Springfield Indians than he would for the big club. In Pride & Passion: 25 Years of the New York Islanders, authors Stan Fischler and Chris Botta say that defensemen like Diduck, Paul Boutillier and Gord Dineen didn’t mature as quickly as management hoped. By 1987, they must have thought Diduck was ready because he then became an Islanders regular and stayed one until 1990. He wasn’t a big scorer and wasn’t expected to be the Next Denis Potvin (as Boutillier was), but Diduck’s 26 goals and 89 points represent the most he would score for any team in his career. His highest single season output was 11 goals and 21 assists in 1988-89.
Here’s an... interesting goal from 1985. I can’t imagine he had too many more like this one.
Didick also racked up over 500 penalty minutes as an Islander and wasn’t afraid to take on some tough customerDUDE AGAIN. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? DO YOU KNOW WHO THAT IS?
An accidental high stick from Diduck in a practice nearly cost Bob Nystrom his eye in 1988. A devastated Diduck rode with Nystrom all the way to the hospital. Nystrom was sitting on 899 games played at the time and eventually did get to an even 900, but the incident did hasten his retirement plans and (short-lived) entry into coaching.
In September of 1990, Diduck was traded to Montreal for even more rough-and-tumble defenseman Craig Ludwig (who would, in turn, be traded for offensive defenseman Tom Kurvers a year or so later). Diduck was a Hab for 31 games before he was traded to Vancouver for the second longest stay of his career. He was a regular, mostly defensive-minded defender for a very good Canucks team and was a member of their 1994 Western Conference champion squad.
He was traded to Chicago in April of 1995, but signed as a free agent with Hartford that summer. Diduck was expected to replace “underachieving defenseman Chris Pronger” (Oooof) and signed a four-year deal with the Whalers. But after less than two seasons, he was traded to Phoenix in 1997. Any Whalers-Coyotes deal is easily the NHL equivalent of the proverbial “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?” question.
For some reason, I remember him best as a Coyote, where he played for three years between the ages of 31 and 33. I also vaguely remember Chris King calling him “D.I. Duck” during a Coyotes-Islanders game in the late 90’s. Was that his nickname? I’ll defer to The Kinger on this one.
I absolutely do not remember him as a Maple Leaf, where he signed as a free agent in 1990, or as a Dallas Star, where he finished his career after being traded for a final time. He sustained an ankle injury in December of 2000 and missed the rest of the season. After that, he retired.
Neither Gerald Diduck’s style nor his stats really made him stand out. I guess those 17 years in the NHL will have to speak for themselves.