We are coming up on the Islanders’ 50th anniversary season, which will create an opportunity for the franchise to celebrate its past and for The Post to select the 50 greatest players in team history.
If we were to do the 50 most significant people in the organization’s history, all-time general manager Bill Torrey and all-time coach Al Arbour would surely rank 1-2, respectively, but it’s not much fun having a pair of suits at the top of the list.
But the anniversary also creates the opportunity for the Islanders to celebrate Ed Westfall, now 81, by retiring their first captain’s No. 18 and raising the jersey to the top of UBS Arena — where it would rightfully join Denis Potvin’s No. 5, Clark Gillies’ No. 9, Bryan Trottier’s No. 19, Mike Bossy’s No. 22, Bob Nystrom’s No. 23, John Tonelli’s No. 27, Billy Smith’s No. 31 and Butch Goring’s No. 91.
Westfall would become the first such honored player not to have been part of the Dynasty. That is as it should be, for in the seven seasons preceding 1979-80, he was an integral part of laying the foundation for the four straight Stanley Cup championship teams and in shepherding the organization and its impossibly young stars into maturity.
The numbers are unremarkable, though they’re a bit better than I might have imagined for the checking wing and penalty-kill specialist: 105 goals (tied for 29th in franchise history), 181 assists (23rd), 286 points (27th) in 493 games (34th).
But coming to the Island in the 1972 expansion draft from a Bruins team coming off its second Cup win in three years, Westfall provided the leadership and professionalism to serve as an example for his young teammates.
It was, in a sense, full circle for Westfall, who was part of all those Bruins clubs that battled the Rangers for fifth place through the final seasons of the Original Six. He was in Boston when Bobby Orr arrived. He was on the Island when Potvin came … and Gillies and Trottier and Bossy and…
Westfall was one of the great teammates in NHL history, one of the most popular and gregarious men ever to put on the Islanders uniform. Among those 105 goals was the one at 14:42 of the third period of Game 7 in Pittsburgh in 1975 that gave the Islanders a 1-0 victory and cemented the third-year team’s historic rally from 3-0 down in the series.
And, by the way, it was Westfall in on the forecheck in the right corner who hurried Brad Park into leaving the puck behind for Jude Drouin to feed J.P. Parise at 0:11 of overtime at the Garden in the decisive Game 3 against the Rangers in the 1975 preliminary round that symbolized the seismic shifting of Teutonic plates.
Again, it wasn’t the numbers. Westfall, who became the club’s television analyst for 20 years beside Jiggs McDonald, set the template for what it meant to be an Islander. For what it meant to be a pro. He served as a bridge to the Dynasty.
It wasn’t the numbers.
It was the man.
It was No. 18.
There won’t be quite the pomp and circumstance as the first time, but Slap Shots has learned that a reunion between the Rangers and Jimmy Vesey is on the horizon.
The 29-year-old famously signed with the Blueshirts as a Kevin Hayes-type free agent in 2016-17 after rejecting offers from both the Predators, who drafted the Harvard product 66th overall in 2012, and from the Sabres, who traded for his rights. Following stops in Buffalo, Toronto and Vancouver after leaving Manhattan, Vesey is coming off a solid season in New Jersey as a depth forward.
Presumably signing a free-agent deal for around the $750,000 minimum that would not count against the cap if assigned to AHL Hartford, Vesey — who went 50-40-90 in 240 games for the Rangers his first time around — will compete for the kind of fourth-line, bottom-six role that Tyler Motte filled so well last spring, but has priced himself out of.
So the myth that no one wants to play in Calgary took a hit when superb 29-year-old playmaking left wing Jonathan Huberdeau signed up for eight years at $84 million ($10.5 million cap hit).
Then again, legal bribery does have its charm.
The usual suspects continue to report that Nazem Kadri is still looking for a long term commitment with a sticker price that begins with a “9,” and if that is indeed the bottom line for the second-line center, who will turn 32 the week prior to the season opener, it is no mystery why he remains unsigned.
Asking for Julien Gauthier:
Is there another player you can think of whose late-career scoring explosion tracks with that of Mike Knuble, the power wing who spent a couple of years with the Rangers during the 1997-2004 Dark Ages before he was sent to Boston for Rob DiMaio?
In the first six years of his career with the Red Wings, Blueshirts and Bruins, from ages 24-29, Knuble recorded 50 goals and 103 points in 353 games while averaging 12:04 of ice time. His goals-per-game came in at 0.14.
For his next eight seasons, however, from age 30-38 with Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, Knuble posted 218 goals and 419 points in 615 games with an average 18:31 of ice. His goals-per increased to 0.52.
Apologies for overlooking Steve Weeks as a goaltender who played for both the Rangers and Islanders. Not only that, but as one of seven netminders to wear both uniforms, Weeks is the only one to post a winning record for both teams, going 9-4-2 with the Islanders during 1991-92 after having gone 42-33-14 for the Blueshirts from 1981-84.
He would be second in our ranking behind Glenn Healy. Steve Valiquette would thus be pushed to seventh overall, but perhaps he might be able to boost his standing by parsing the numbers between periods on MSG.
Finally, I am trying to imagine “Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!” in the cadence of the beloved Vin Scully.
Enjoy the rest of the summer.