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.
Imagine playing a small but crucial role for one of the NHL’s greatest teams. Got that? Great.
Now, imagine doing that for TWO of the NHL’s greatest teams. And winning four Stanley Cups in the process without ever having scored double digits in goals.
That was Billy Carroll, a center and an ace penalty killer for two friggin’ dynasties. Drafted in the second round of the 1979 draft by the Islanders, Carroll spent four years with them, each one ending in the Stanley Cup final. Three of those were wins and one was a loss to the Edmonton Oilers in 1984.
Carroll’s role was almost strictly on the PK and in true hockey player fashion, he was totally fine with that. In a New York Times feature on him from 1982, he said of his limited ice time, “It doesn’t really bother me. I played in the minors a couple of years and I’ll do anything they want. You have to do what they want in order to stay around here. I’d rather do that here than score in the minors.’’
In fact, he scored a bunch in the minors for the Islanders then-affiliate in Indianapolis in 1980-81, totalling 27 goals and 37 assists. When he got the call from the big club, he was asked to basically replace ol’ reliable Lorne Henning on the penalty kill. And boy, was he good at it.
Carroll is a dynamo of puck-stealing and forechecking when the Islanders skate short-handed. ‘’All we try to do is forecheck,’’ he said. ‘’We keep them from setting up. We try and stay all over them and forecheck as quick as we can.’’
He played 18 regular season games for the Islanders in 80-81, scoring four goals and four assists. He played the same amount of games in that year’s playoffs and outpaced his original totals with three goals and nine assists as the Islanders won Cup No. 2.
The next season would be his best in the NHL, with nine goals (including three shorties), and 20 assists in 72 games. Another 19 playoff games and another Cup followed. The following season was a down one in terms of regular season offense, but 20 playoff games and yet another Stanley Cup probably made up for it. In 1983-84, the dynasty was finally stopped by the Oilers in the Islanders’ fifth straight Cup final and Carroll’s fourth, although he was hampered by injuries even into the playoffs.
By then, at the age of 25, Carroll was looking for a larger role with the Islanders. Instead, he got claimed in the waiver draft in October of 1984 by - of all teams - the Edmonton Oilers. The draft worked like waivers do today, which means every team passed him up before the champion Oilers grabbed him.
‘’I was very surprised and happy that I was picked by Edmonton,’’ he said. ‘’With the way the draft works, it really is to strengthen the weaker teams. When I was told it was Edmonton, I thought it was a joke.’’
He basically played the same role for the Oilers that he did for the Islanders, once again all the way to the Cup final. Edmonton beat Philadelphia in five games and Carroll picked up ring No. 4.
Here he is talking about his time with the Oilers, who are obviously not the Islanders. But it’s neat to hear his thoughts nonetheless.
That Cup would be the peak of Carroll’s time in Edmonton. He mostly played in the AHL during the next season before being dealt to the Red Wings in December of 1985. He spent parts of two seasons there, but didn’t play at all in Detroit’s run to the Campbell Conference Finals in 1987, where they lost to the Oilers.
Fun Fact that actually is fun: Billy Carroll’s nephew is Blue Jackets’ forward Boone Jenner!
Billy Carroll played alongside a ton of Hall of Famers on two legendary teams, experienced an absurd amount of playoff series and won four Stanley Cups. He might not be the most remembered player from those rosters, but he’s got more than enough hardware with his name on it to prove his worth.
“The best players were always the best players in critical situations. And to their credit, the [Islanders] stars didn’t make defensive players like me feel any different, other than on payday that is. But the organization was very good about creating roles people could succeed in. It was made very clear to me what would be my job.”