With the revival of the New Jersey Devils green and red theme this past week, there was a gauntlet thrown down by Spector's Hockey Lyle Richardson on Face Off Hockey Show this past week. As I had never (shockingly) done an AGM about a Devils goalie, I was challenged to do so. While there's not many outside of Martin Brodeur in terms of legendary goalies-- I had the field to work from. This week....I chose one who was actually casted aside because of Brodeur coming up. This week, we'll look at the career of Craig Billington.
Billington started off with the London Diamonds in Junior B and registered a decent 3.41 GAA in his 23 games, which got him noticed by the OHL's Belleville Bulls, where he was drafted and took the jump to the OHL. Starting off in the 1983-84 season, Billington got the bulk of the starts in a crowded Belleville crease. In 44 games, Billington put up a 20-19-0 record for the Bulls and would really set his pace for his junior career. While it wasn't much, Billington caught the eye of NHL scouts and the New Jersey Devils drafted him 23rd overall in the 1984 NHL Draft.
The 1984-85 season showed how Billington excelled in his junior years, this time helping pace the Bulls with a 26-19-0 record. Yet, the season was much more for Billington, who was selected to the Canadian Junior Team that year for the WJC held in Finland. Billington was stellar in his five games, going 3-0-2 and aiding the Canadian to the Gold Medal, upsetting the powerful Soviets. Billington was named best goaltender in the tournament, as well. Billington started the 1985-86 season with the Devils, playing behind Chico Resch and Alain Chevrier. Billington played in five games, going 3-0-0 with the Devils before being sent back to Belleville in order to get ready for another appearance in the WJC. For those few Belleville games, Billington went 2-1-0. Onto the 1986 WJC, this time being played on home ice in Hamilton. Billington was on again, going 4-1-0 with a 2.80 GAA, but it was in a Silver Medal effort for the Canadians. Billington returned to New Jersey, but did not fair well; rounding out his season with a 1-9-1 record and 4-9-1 overall.
The 1986-87 season saw Billington be demoted to the AHL's Maine Mariners in order to get some more seasoning to him, which worked rather well. In his 20 games, Billington compiled a 9-7-2 record, gaining him a call-up to New Jersey in the new calendar year. Billington continued his struggles behind Chevrier, going 4-13-2. The Devils management was not convinced of Billington's abilities, thus sending him to play for the Utica Devils in the AHL for the entire 1987-88 season, which wasn't as bad as his tenure in Jersey, but a 22-27-8 record wasn't the desired return the Devils were looking for. It was another year in Utica for Billington, as he got better with a 17-18-6 for the 1988-89 season, as well as a 1-1-0 record in his three appearances in New Jersey. Better news for Billington in the 1989-90 season, as his tenure with Utica was even more improved with a 20-13-1 record.
Rather than toil in the minors again, Billington took a year off from the Devils organization for the 1990-91 season, playing for the Canadain National Team in the meantime. With the National Team, Billington went a solid 17-14-2 with a respectable 3.15 GAA. It allowed Billington to play in the World Hockey Championships, though he didn't get much time and only had one tie to his record for the tournament in three games played, but gained a silver medal for his collection.
Billington returned to the Devils organization for the 1991-92 season to back-up Chris Terreri and it seemed like the time in the AHL and for the National Team helped, as the Billington has his best season yet, going 13-7-1 record behind Terreri. The good record helped him split starts with Terreri in the 1992-93 season, playing in 42 games and sporting a 21-16-4 record. However, with a young netminder by the name of Martin Brodeur coming through the system, Billington's value was at it's peak in order to deal him, which is what they did.
In June of 1993, Billington, Troy Mallette, and a 4th Round Pick were traded from New Jersey to the Ottawa Senators for Peter Sidorkiewicz and Mike Peluso. The 1993-94 season saw Billington thrown into the Ottawa starting role, which wasn't a good thing considering how terrible they were back then. It showed in his performance, as he went 11-41-4 in his 63 games played. Billington lead the lead in losses and goals against (254). The shortened 1995 season, Billington played nine games in Ottawa, going 0-6-2 before he got a bit of a reprieve.
At the trade deadline, the Senators traded Billington to the Boston Bruins for an eighth-round pick. Billington was to back-up Bill Ranford and he did a solid job, going 5-1-0 in his eight appearances. Billington stayed with the Bruins for the 1995-96 season, against backing up Ranford, but with mixed results. In his 27 appearances, a 10-13-3 record was all he had to show for it.
The summer of 1996 was an odd one for Billington. He remained unsigned until just before training camp, when the Florida Panthers signed him as a free agent. However, before he could ever play a regular season games, the Colorado Avalanche picked him up from the Waiver Draft and used him to back-up Patrick Roy. Coming off a Stanley Cup, the Avalanche needed a solid back-up if Roy were to go down. The 1996-97 season saw Billington play 23 games and went 11-8-2 and had a solid 2.65 GAA and a .909 save percentage, while the 1997-98 season was every better stats-wie, outside of record mind you, as in 23 games he put up an 8-7-4 record with a 2.32 GAA and .923 save percentage. It was converse for the 1998-99 season, as Billington's record improved (11-8-1) but his numbers went down (2.86 GAA, .894 save percentage).
While his time with the Avs was great, he was traded by Colorado to the Washington Capitals for future considerations in the summer of 1999. Billington would be behind another workhorse in Olaf Kolzig. Billington didn't have the best years in Washington, starting off the 1999-2000 season, with only 13 appearances, going 3-6-1 for the year. It didn't get much better in the 2000-01 season, with a 3-5-2 record in only 12 appearances. Yet again in the 2001-02 season, Billington got more starts, but not much more of a solid record going 4-5-2 in 17 games, though his shining moment as a Capital happened on December 22nd, 2001, as the Caps were playing the Penguins. Billy Tibbetts had bumped Kolzig and the two got into it. Then Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg was inching out to start something and began to chirp at the Capitals bench. Billington, taking exception to it, taunted the "Moose" by putting up moose antlers with his glove and blocker. Epic win.
After only five games in the 2002-03 season, Billington called it a career on January 7th, 2003 and was immediately hired as the goalie coach for the Colorado Avalanche. Billington still is currently with the team, going from goalie coach to Director of Player Development and now onto the VP of Hockey Operations and Assistant GM of the Avalanche.
While he got off to a rocky pro start, the fact Billington was able to rediscover his game, whether it be taking a hiatus or getting a change of scenery. With his year observing the game, it's only fitting he's not overseeing the Avalanche in their rebuilding seasons and could be credited with some of their success this season, too.