By winning the Calder Trophy in 1974 and the Norris in 1976, Denis Potvin had already established himself as one of the best defensemen in the NHL. That was the good news.
The bad news was that his mouth and idiosyncratic disposition separated him from many of his peers and even his own teammates. An inflammatory series of diaries written during the 1976 Canada Cup tournament made many in and out of the game think of him as a petulant grouch or an outright villain.
But by beginning his journey as a businessman, taking a more team-oriented approach to hockey and opening himself up emotionally to his colleagues, Potvin - still just 24-years-old - was able to unburden himself from pressure and expectations. In a season in which the Islanders started out sloppy and ended up with their first division championship, Potvin was a rock of consistency. After watching his brother Jean get traded away from Long Island, Denis went on a second half scoring rampage, blowing past his defensive competition to reclaim the Norris Trophy crown and prove once and for all that he was the premier blueliner of the era.
But in the playoffs, the once scrappy underdogs learned a hard lesson about being the favorite and having a target on your back.
Denis Potvin remains one of the more fascinating figures in Islanders history. He was so good on the ice that any perceived cold streak or bad play seemed like the end of the world. He wasn’t into the usual hockey guy things (aka just “hockey”) and had a million interests away from the ice. Had social media existed in the mid-to-late 70’s, I’m not sure he would have particularly cared for it. There’s an argument that even with a Calder and three Norris Trophies (the last of which we’ll examine in our next episode) that he might have still been underrated then and now.
So let’s go back and see what made Denis Potvin so special.
Here are some extra pictures and stories from the time:
Research and other assistance was provided by Kevin Schultz. Visit VintageIceHockey.com, where you can buy t-shirts, hoodies and mugs featuring the logos over over 100 classic hockey teams from all across North America, as well as our own Al Arbour tribute shirt. Use the code ANXIETY20 to get 20 percent off an order of two items. Our portion of the sales go directly to the Center for Dementia Research.
This episode of Islanders Award Winners was written using Wikipedia, archival material from Newsday, MacLean’s, The Montreal Gazette, The New York Times and Sports Illustrated, as well as the books Power on Ice by Denis Potvin and Stan Fischler, Boss: The Mike Bossy Story by Mike Bossy with Barry Meisel, New York Islanders: Countdown to A Dynasty by Barry Wilner, Pride and Passion: 25 Years of the New York Islanders by Stan Fischler and Chris Botta and Dynasty: The Oral History of the New York Islanders 1972-1984 by Greg Prato.
The following video clips were also used in the podcast:
On the next Islanders Award Winners: The Islanders win their first regular season championship and Denis Potvin has, to this day, the best single season a defensemen has ever had for this franchise.