So far in this series, we’ve seen Denis Potvin win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie after helping transform a hapless team into something resembling a professional one. We’ve seen him rocket up the charts of the league’s best defensemen, capturing his first Norris Trophy at just 22-years-old. We’ve seen him win a second Norris after pissing off the entire hockey world, learning to open up emotionally, and climbing back to the mountaintop after a inconsistent follow-up season.
Today we finally reach his final Norris Trophy year, in which the Islanders win their first regular season championship and Potvin has, to this day, the best single season a defensemen has ever had for this franchise.
Potvin’s 101 points on 31 goals and 70 assists in 1978-89 was by all accounts a spectacular campaign, highlighted by hat tricks, long point streaks, torrid periods of dominance and one hit that would result in an unfortunate injury and even more unfortunate chant that has gone on for far too long. With Potvin leading the way on defense, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies pushing the offense and Smith/Resch duo on top of their games, the Islanders seemed primed to win their first Stanley Cup. But their closest rivals made sure they had one last hard lesson to learn.
This is, thankfully, the final time we’ll see the 1979 playoffs in this series. As painful as that loss was to the players and the fans, that whole season stands as one of the most fascinating in franchise history. It is still the second best season in team history by wins and points and is the only one in which the team won four major awards. That roster had everything going for it. Until it didn’t... at the worst possible time to the worst possible opponent.
Denis Potvin’s Islanders story doesn’t end here but his offensive and statistical dominance does. He would captain four straight Stanley Cup winners and make the Hall of Fame by letting others in on the action and becoming a key player, rather than the focal point. He’s still one of the three best players in Islanders history and I hope this episode makes that case as clearly as it can.
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: Our series finale covers one of the team’s most recent award recipients, and a demarcation point between the old Islanders and the current ones.