Known as "Billy D", Bill Derlago was an excellent all-around athlete who appeared as a natural on a golf course, a tennis court, a baseball diamond, or a hockey rink. The latter, of course, got most of his attention as he rewrote the record books as a standout sniper with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WCJHL from 1974 to 1978.
A long NHL career was predicted for the talented centreman when the Vancouver Canucks picked him up 4th overall in the 1978 Amateur Draft. He hit the ice amidst expectations that he would do unto the Canucks as he had done unto the Wheat Kings.
But a knee ligament injury early in his first campaign threw a wrench into his career aspirations. It wasn't until year two that he finally got going, albeit not to a high enough pitch to satisfy the powers of Canuck-land. Derlago was dispatched, along with Rick Vaive, to the Toronto Maple Leafs in February 1980.
In Toronto, Derlago finally got the stable setting he needed to establish his game as a smooth-skating playmaker who had the deft passing touch that could successfully feed Rick Vaive's cannon-like shot. The two worked together to raise each other's game, especially Vaive's, to sniper status.
But despite Derlago's steady output over his five-plus seasons with the club, questions about his desire and self-discipline were raised. There has been speculation that since he was a first-hand witness to the very public persecutions of Darryl Sittler and Laurie Boschman, that he made a decision to avoid too much success for fear of being next in line for abuse. Derlago clearly had all of the offensive tools to be a 50-goal man. And yet he avoided all of the exercise regimes and extra practices that might have raised his game to that height. Instead, he chose to remain a consistent 35- to 40-goal man where the spotlight didn't shine with such hot intensity.
In 1985, as he was beginning to slow a step, he was traded to the Boston Bruins for Tom Fergus. As a Bruins, Derlago was relagated to third- and fourth-line duty as a defensive forward. His new role was a foreign assignment, to say the least. He lasted only 39 games and was then traded to the Winnipeg Jets.
By then, Derlago was clearly on the downside of his career. He lasted only a brief time with the Jets before he was sent to the Quebec Nordiques in 1987. Eighteen games later he was demoted to the Fredericton Express of the AHL where he played only 16 games. He then went overseas to play in Italy for one season before hanging up his blades in 1988.