This season Islander fans are thrilled to be in the playoffs, but for awhile in Long Island they expected to be in the playoffs every year and usually a Stanley Cup followed. Led by their captain Denis Potvin.
Potvin was drafted first overall in the 1973 National Hockey League Amateur Draft by the struggling expansion Islanders, a team which had recorded the worst record in modern National Hockey League (NHL) history the previous season. Right after Bill Torrey drafted Potvin, Montreal Canadiens General Manager Sam Pollock approached Torrey, hoping to trade for Potvin. Pollock’s strategy was to offer a “quick-fix” package of mature players to exchange for the top draft pick. Torrey ultimately turned down the offer since he felt that Potvin would be a long-term asset to his team.
Upon joining the Islanders, Potvin wanted to wear number 7 on his uniform but was forced to take number 5, as forward Germain Gagnon was wearing number 7.Potvin entered the NHL with high expectations; he was regarded by some as the savior of the Islanders’ franchise, and by others as potentially the next Bobby Orr. While he did not dominate the game in the same way as Orr, Potvin became an immediate star, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year in 1973–74 and the James Norris Memorial Trophy as league’s top defenseman in 1975–76, 1977–78, and 1978–79. Upon Orr’s decline and retirement in the late 1970s, Potvin became widely acknowledged, along with Larry Robinson, as the premier defenseman in the game.
Potvin was known for being intelligent, articulate, and outspoken off the ice. Throughout the 1970s, his Islander teammates often were turned off as these traits made Potvin come across as arrogant. He offended many hockey fans by stating publicly that he had played better in the 1976 Canada Cup than Bobby Orr, and that the latter’s selection as tournament MVP was for sentimental reasons. However, as Potvin matured, he became a great leader as he learned to use these same qualities to positively affect his teammates.
His best season offensively was 1979, during which he became the second defenseman (Orr being the first) to score 30 goals and 100 points in a single season. Potvin was awarded his third Norris trophy for the regular season, which the Islanders finished first overall in the NHL. However, despite being heavily favored to win their semi-final series against the New York Rangers, the talented but young Islanders’ team ultimately lost in six games.Clark Gillies stepped down as captain during the off-season, and Potvin became the team’s third captain, a position he held until relinquishing it in 1987. In 1979–80, Potvin’s first year as captain, the Islanders won their first of four Stanley Cups. Potvin was a key part of the Islanders during the team’s early 1980s glory years: in addition to the four consecutive Stanley Cup championships and five straight finals appearances, in the eight seasons he served as captain the Islanders never failed to reach the playoffs.
Potvin retired as the National Hockey League‘s leader in goals and points by a defenseman. His career totals were later surpassed by Raymond Bourque, Paul Coffey and others and as of 2014 he sits fifth in career goals and seventh in career points amongst defencemen.
Potvin was a more traditional defender than Orr and an extremely physical player. He averaged just under a point per game over his career (0.992), while Orr averaged 1.39 points per game. Late in his career, Potvin suffered a series of injuries that impeded his performance, leading to his retirement following the 1988 season. Potvin claimed to have received an offer from Mike Keenan to come out of retirement and play for arch-rival New York Rangers in 1993.Mike Keenan has yet to substantiate these claims. Potvin has admitted that although he believed it was a joke, he did contemplate a comeback. After a brief skate he decided his body could no longer handle the rigors of the game.
Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday salutes …the captain of the championship teams …Denis Potvin.