Unquestionably, it was Goring's arrival from Los Angeles in March of last year that pushed the Islanders over the hump. Pairing him with Clark Gillies and Duane Sutter gave New York a second scoring line. At the time, Nystrom, Merrick and Tonelli could only be counted on to check, and the task of scoring fell primarily to Trottier and Bossy. The Islanders needed more balance, and Goring gave them that. Further, he gave them new blood. Around the league, the Islanders were seen as one big happy family—a group of chummy chokers who were world-beaters during the regular season but busts in the playoffs. To get Goring, General Manager Bill Torrey traded Billy Harris, the team's original draft choice in 1972 and a favorite of his, and Defenseman Dave Lewis, who was probably the most popular player on the team. Whack! It was like a cold, sharp slap in the face to the entire club.
"The Islanders are a very close-knit team," says Goring, who at first was none too wild about the trade. He had just signed a long-term contract with the Kings and, like most athletes, enjoyed the life-style in Los Angeles. "But the Islanders never blamed me that their friends were traded," he continues. "In a sense they blamed themselves. Maybe if they'd played a little better.... It could have been any one of them. "
Some observers believe Goring's immediate acceptance was the first sign of the team's maturing. In the 12 regular-season games he played with the Islanders last season, they went undefeated. Right from the start, he was talking it up in the locker room, offering constructive advice, acting like good old country Butch. "I wasn't going to change the way I'd always been," he says. "Once I had time to think about the trade, I realized it was probably my only chance to play on a legitimate contender. You never know the true value of that until you win a Stanley Cup. I would have played 15 years in this league without having so much as a whiff of the Cup. To win it once is almost enough, but to win it who knows how many times...."
Ah, that's the question. With their overpowering performance in this year's playoffs, the Islanders have put themselves on a different plane from the rest of the league. "And now we've got to stay there," says Torrey, whose main threat comes not from a rival team but from free agency. Early this summer the players and owners will try to work out a compensation agreement, with the players seeking greater freedom to peddle their services to the highest bidder. Bourne becomes a free agent next week, and next season will be option year for Nystrom, Bossy, Potvin, Tonelli and Mike McEwen. The Islanders, near bankruptcy two years ago and still debt-ridden, can ill afford a bidding war with heavily financed teams like the Rangers and the Kings. Nor can they afford to lose the likes of Bossy and Potvin, both of whom are likely to ask for upward of $750,000 per year. To add to Torrey's potential problems, next year Coach Al Arbour's contract expires. The NHL's most respected coach, and highly coveted, he, too, may leave, which would release some of the Islanders—Potvin and Bourne, especially—from the bond of loyalty they feel for him.
"I'm going to talk to Bill in the next week or so," says Bourne. "A lot of what the other players do will depend on what I do this year, and what Bossy and Potvin do next year. This is a tough team to leave. It's still family as far as I'm concerned. And I don't want to have to play against the likes of Trottier and Gillies."
Says Torrey, "We've never failed to sign anyone we wanted to keep. Maybe it tells me something when players want to leave a championship team." Like the times, they are a-changin'.