Islanders: Best Player To Wear Number 31
By Matt O'Leary
Continuing our best of series, today we will look at the best player to wear number 31 for the New York Islanders in their history.
In the New York Islanders history, only one player has worn number 31 for the New York Islanders and his name is Billy Smith. In 1970, the Los Angeles Kings selected Billy Smith in the fifth round of the NHL Draft.
He’d go on to play just five games as a King in 1971-1972 as a 21-year-old, before being drafted by the Isles in the 1972 expansion draft. He was the second player the Islanders picked.
His first year with the Isles wasn’t so great, he had a .878 save percentage and a 4.16 goals against average going 7-24-3 in 37 games played. Smith and Chico Resch would split time through a majority of the 1970s.
The most amount of games played in a season by Smith came in 1974-1975 when he had 58 games under his belt and a 21-18-17 record with a .905 save percentage and a 2.78 goals against average.
During the regular season of the 1979-1980 season, Chico Resch got a majority of the starts 45 to Smith’s 38 but by the time the playoffs rolled around things were different. Smith played in 20 of the 24 playoff games putting up a .903 save percentage and a 2.70 goals against average. This was now his team.
Two years later, Smith would take home the Vezina Trophy for the New York Islanders. He went 32-9-4 with a .898 save percentage and a 2.97 goals against average as the Isles were on their way to their third Stanley Cup.
The following season, Smith was the Conn Smythe winner putting up a .913 save percentage and a 2.69 goals against average in the playoffs in 1983. That year, he also finished fourth in Vezina voting as well.
By 1985, Smith began to be faded out slowly. He would play in 37, 41, 40, 38, and 17 games in the final five years of his career. In 1989, Smith retired as the last original Islander still on the team.
He finished his 17-year career with a save percentage of .895 and a 3.18 goals against average, a Vezina, Jennings, Conn Smythe, and four Cups to his name. Smith would be the goalie coach for a few years with the Islanders before moving to the Florida Panthers with Bill Torrey in 1992.
In 93, Smith was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Islanders retired his number 31. As one of the most important Islanders of all-time, nobody else will have the privilege of wearing number 31 on Long Island.