The New York Islanders - along with every other NHL team and many other businesses - have temporarily suspended operations due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. The Center for Disease Control and World Health Organizations have strongly advised the public to practice self-quarantining and avoid close contact and crowds to limit the spread of the virus. But that doesn’t mean we can’t gather in a virtual space and talk about old hockey players.
As long as the Islanders are on pause, we’ll run this series to give folks a place to chat, reminisce, and generally relieve the stress of the times.
Islanders history is generally broken up into a series of eras. But between those times are transitional years where the franchise was trying to find its way to its next iteration. Some players have spent most of their Islander careers in those transitional periods, trapped between epochs that fans remember more vividly.
That’s a very Marvel Comics-eque way of introducing defenseman Paul Boutilier, who was drafted at the end of the dynasty era but left before the LaFontaine-led post Dynasty era really took off.
Boutilier (pronounced boo-til-leer) was taken by the Islanders with the final pick, 21st overall, in the first round of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft. (A fellow defenseman on the board at the time, BTW: Chris Chelios). Boutilier helped led the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Casters to the Memorial Cup final in 1982 and won a gold medal with Canada at that year’s World Junior Championship. By 1983, was a part-time player for the Islanders and a Stanley Cup champion, all at the ripe-old age of 19.
In the book, Pride and Passion: 25 Years of the New York Islanders, authors Stan Fischler and Chris Botta wrote that Boutilier was “considered a potential Denis Potvin” and that he “owned a devastating slap shot and had fine puck instincts, not to mention the thickest pair of the legs in the league, which he exercised dutifully each summer by running up and down a mountainside.” That’s some description.
Boutilier had a career-high 12 goals and 23 assists in the 1984-85 season and certainly wasn’t shy about dropping the gloves, either. He had 90 penalty minutes that season and here he is throwing down with... [wait for it] ... Red Wings winger and current Islanders assistant coach Lane Lambert!
His 85-86 season was nearly identical in terms of points and PIMs. While he might not have been the next Denis Potvin, Boutilier was certainly a very good everyday defenseman. Guys like him, Pat Flatley and Pat LaFontaine were expected to be the next wave of Islanders who continued the team’s championship aspirations. But try as they and others might have, the franchise just kept slipping further and further from being a true contender.
In the summer of ‘86, the Islanders signed goonish defenseman Brian Curran and lost Boutilier as compensation to Curran’s old team, the Bruins. That began a cross-continent hockey odyssey that lasted two full seasons.
After 57 games in Boston, Boutilier was traded to Minnesota in March of 1987. He played just 10 games for the North Stars, who missed the playoffs, and was traded to the Rangers before the next season began. He played for five (5!) teams in 1987-88, spending four games with the Rangers, six with the Winnipeg Jets - where he was traded for the dreaded “future considerations” - and 59 games playing for two AHL squads and one IHL team.
Despite another cup of coffee with the Jets, he played in the minors, in Switzerland and for Team Canada for the final two years of his career.
Or, I should say, his hockey career. After he officially retired, Boutilier got heavily involved in the sport of curling and would eventually be named head of the World Curling Tour, leading the organization during a contentious time in the sport’s existence. Who knew?
Recently, he has returned to hockey and began coaching, signing on as an assistant in the QMJHL and in the AHL for the Belleville Senators. He also hosts talks about coaching, some of which you can preview on YouTube.
Paul Boutilier’s NHL career peaked early without him becoming the next Denis Potvin. But he never stopped giving his all to whatever game he was playing at the time.