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.
Before there was Martin Brodeur, there was Richard Brodeur. Before there was “King Henrik,” there was “King Richard.” Before he led the Canucks on a surprising run to the 1982 Stanley Cup Final against the Islanders, Richard Brodeur was an Islander.
Or, at least he was for about a game and a half.
The diminutive (5’-7”) goalie out of Quebec was drafted by the Islanders in the 7th round of their inaugural NHL amateur draft in 1972. Brodeur (no relation to Marty) won 43 of 58 games as an 18-year-old and led the Cornwall Royals to a Memorial Cup the previous season. But a few things blocked his path to Long Island; other goalies, money and the WHA.
Islanders GM Bill Torrey had taken goalies Billy Smith and Gerry Desjardins in the ‘72 expansion draft, and had traded for Glenn “not yet Chico” Resch the summer before the team’s first season was to begin. Torrey also offered Brodeur a one-year contract, but it wasn’t to his liking. So when his hometown Quebec Nordiques came at him with a longer contract for more dough, Brodeur decided to jump to the rival World Hockey Association.
Via a Washington Post article from 1982 comes some of the faintest praise of all time:
“Quebec offered me a good contract and I told myself if I was going to play in the minors anyway, I might as well play in the best minor league, and that was the WHA.”
All of the calls turned out to be the correct ones. Smith and Resch eventually became a better-than-solid 1A-1B goaltending tandem for the Islanders and Brodeur went on to have seven outstanding seasons for the Nordiques. He compiled a record of 165-114-12, and his only season under .500 was his rookie year. He led the WHA in wins in 1976 with a record-setting 44, and backstopped Les Nordiques to AVCO Cup finals in 1975 and 1977, taking home the trophy in the latter.
In 1979, the WHA and NHL merged and four teams - including the Nordiques - made the jump to the more established league. Players could either be protected by their merging club, or be claimed by the NHL teams that previously owned their rights. Quebec cut Brodeur loose and the Islanders reclaimed him. But despite a quality training camp and years of experience and high level play, he couldn’t overcome Smith and Resch.
So Torrey stashed Brodeur in the Central Hockey League’s Indianapolis Checkers, where he once again played well but backed up Roland Melanson. Brodeur was actually called up during the 1979-80 season, and got to see two games in an Islander jersey. Believe it or not, there’s actually video evidence of this basically once-in-a-lifetime event, courtesy of Islanders Pride, one of the go-to YouTube channels for Islanders fans.
There he is, wearing No. 30 against the Red Wings (man, this play-by-play guy is rough):
In total, Brodeur spent 80 minutes as a New York Islander, which, quite obviously, didn’t make him eligible for a Stanley Cup ring at the end of that 79-80 season. Even though his career was at a crossroads, Canucks GM Jake Milford thought the “little fat guy” could still play, and sent Torrey a fifth round pick for Brodeur and another fifth rounder (The Canucks pick was used on Moe Lemay, who turned out to be pretty good. The Islanders pick was used on Jacques Sylvestre, who... wasn’t.)
Vancouver already had Glen Hanlon and Gary Bromley established as their tandem, so Brodeur actually contemplated retirement and starting a business. But an injury to Hanlon opened the door for him to get into games, and almost immediately, he was the ensconced starter. It was at this point that he gained his legendary nickname of “King Richard” (no relation to, uh, Henrik Lundqvist).
In 1982, the Canucks shocked the world, including their own fans, by powering their way all the way to the Stanley Cup final. Their opponents: the two-time defending champion New York Islanders. The fact that Brodeur had been Islanders property was a notable storyline during the series, but clearly whatever relationships he had with anyone in the organization didn’t help the Canucks during the sweep.
Brodeur remained with the Canucks for the next six seasons, though none were as magical as that 81-82 season. He led the NHL in losses in 1986, and Vancouver was unable to get out of the first round of the playoffs. With young Kirk McLean establishing himself as an NHL goalie and pushing him to the back-up role, Brodeur asked to be traded. In 1988, he was dealt to Hartford for former Islander Steve Weeks, and his 10 career games as a Whaler are infinitely less memorable than his 80 career minutes as an Islander.
This entire thing is basically one long “Fun Fact” for folks that remember or have read about the 1982 Cup final. The Islanders let a pretty good goalie get away, but they had a bunch in their system already. If they hadn’t let him go, Richard Brodeur might never have had a good pro career and a sweet nickname. That they once met with a Stanley Cup in the balance just shows the funny way paths can intertwine for players and teams over the course of time.