Gary “Suitcase” Smith got his nickname from playing for an unusually high number of teams in his era. Smith was acquired in May of 1973 in exchange for Canucks defender Dale Tallon. Smith had previous experience with weak teams, having played in California for the Seals/Golden Seals. Smith held the fort as best he could for the 1973-74 season, and despite Vancouver having their best season to date, Smith still led the NHL in losses with 33, though did also finish third in games with 66 games behind only Tony Esposito and Bernie Parent.
The 1974-75 season is the one that Smith is best known for in Vancouver and in his career. Vancouver, placed in a new weaker division, took advantage of the weaker competition and finished first in the Smythe Division. Smith himself carried the team on his back for many nights, playing more games than any other goaltender in the NHL with a whopping 72 games. Smith’s 32 wins were good for third in the league and his GAA of 3.09 gave him the 11th spot in the league. He was even a shutout master, tying for 2nd with 6 on the season. The Canucks made the playoffs for the first time and earned a bye thanks to their first place finish in the Smythe Division. Smith played well in the series against the Montreal Canadiens despite their series loss, even helping the Canucks earn a win during one game in the heavily unbalanced match up.
Smith’s stellar season had him finish 6th in Hart voting and third in voting for the All-Star Team, nearly making the Second team. The 1975-76 season, Smith’s third with the Canucks, was unfortunately not as glamourous for the neither the Canucks or Smith. Smith played in 51 games and finished with 20 wins and 2 shutouts to his name. Smith was traded to the Minnesota North Stars at the end of the season in exchange for fellow netminder Cesare Maniago.
At the time of his departure, Smith was the all-time leader in virtually every Canuck goaltending statistic. His all-time lead in wins wasn’t passed until 1984-85 and his 11 shutouts as a Canuck weren’t surpassed until Kirk McLean did it in the 1992-93 season. Despite his relatively short time in Vancouver, Gary Smith left his mark.