Friday, April 6, 2012
Denis Potvin was drafted by the New York Islanders with the first overall selection in the 1973 NHL Entry Draft and the Montreal Canadiens immediately offered New York a package of established players in exchange for him. Thinking long-term, Islanders general manager Bill Torrey turned down the offer, keeping the man who would eventually become the longest serving captain in franchise history.
Following his final season in juniors for the Ottawa 67's when he had 123 points and 232 penalty minutes in just 61 games on defense, Islander fans were expecting much from the rookie, who suffered the pressure from comparisons to Bobby Orr.
Potvin's first campaign saw him immediately establish himself as a NHL caliber player by appearing 77 games, the final one of which was played on this date in 1974 and saw Potvin score a goal and three assists, establishing NHL rookie records for defensemen with 17 goals, 54 assists and 71 points in a 4-2 win over the Minnesota North Stars. He also displayed his toughness with 175 penalty minutes, all of which earned him the Calder Trophy as the Rookie of the Year.
In addition to his standout defense, his offensive numbers would continue to climb, when he scored 76 points during his second season followed by a jump to 98 in 1975-76, beginning a run of seven straight seasons of averaging over a point per game, a season that would see him earn the first of three Norris Trophies.
Three seasons later, in 1978-79, he would have the finest offensive season of his career with 31 goals, 70 assists and 101 points, all career highs, and he would win his third Norris Trophy, having also been named the winner in 1978 as well. He was the first defenseman to score 30 goals and 100 points since Orr in 1975.
Still, the best was yet to come for the Islanders and Potvin, who was named team captain in time for the 1979-80 season. Deep playoff runs in the previous five seasons gave the club experience that they put to good use, capturing the Stanley Cup first in 1980 and then earning the "dynasty" tag by repeating the feat three more seasons in a row, all with Potvin as the captain.
All told, Potvin competed in an astounding 34 playoff rounds in ten consecutive seasons while the Islanders were at their peak, the rough equivalent of two additional seasons worth of games, only played at the highest levels of pressure and emotion.
When he retired after the 1987-88 season, he did so as the NHL leader in goals and points by a defenseman.
His final career totals stand at 1,060 games played with 310 goals and 742 assists for 1052 points. He also retired with as the career playoff leader in goals (56), assists (108) and points (164) for a defenseman.
His #5 was retired by the Islanders in 1992, the first Islander to ever have his number retired. Prior to that he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991, but perhaps his most enduring legacy might be the "Potvin Sucks!" chants that continue to this day in Madison Square Garden, home of the rival New York Rangers.
A Rangers jersey immortalizing the "Potvin Sucks!" chant
Today's featured jersey is a 1973-74 New York Islanders Denis Potvin jersey as worn the season he broke the NHL rookie scoring records for goals, assists and points by a defenseman.
The original Islanders jerseys from the previous season had orange numbers, which were changed to white for Potvin's rookie season. This style would remain unchanged until 1977-78 when the white ends of the sleeves were made blue.
The first generation of Islanders jerseys is truly "the jersey that wouldn't die", as the Islanders have tried again and again to redesign their jerseys, first with disastrous results in 1996, before returning with an updated version in 1998. Even after the league wide change to Reebok jerseys in 2007, the Islanders again reintroduced this style as an alternate in 2008, this time with a lace up collar as originally worn in 1972, and then promoted that alternate to again be the team's primary jersey beginning with the 2010-11 season.
First today is a profile of Potvin from the fantastic "Legends of Hockey" series. Love him or hate him, this is well worth watching.
Here is the dramatic finish to the Islanders first Stanley Cup Championship in 1980.
Finally the origin of the "Potvin Sucks!" chant.