Denis Potvin

Denis Charles Potvin (born October 29, 1953) is a Canadian former professional ice hockey defenceman and team captain for the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League (NHL). He is a four-time Stanley Cup winner as a member of the early 1980s New York Islanders. He is also a three-time James Norris Memorial Trophy winner as the NHL's top defenceman. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991 and served as a commentator for Ottawa Senators' television broadcasts on Sportsnet. He is the former color commentator for the Florida Panthers. Potvin was born in Vanier, Ontario. In 2017, he was named one of the "100 Greatest NHL Players" in history.[1]

Denis Potvin
Hockey Hall of Fame, 1991
Potvin skating with the New York Islanders
Born (1953-10-29) October 29, 1953
Vanier, Ontario, Canada
Height 6 ft 0 in (183 cm)
Weight 205 lb (93 kg; 14 st 9 lb)
Position Defence
Shot Left
Played for New York Islanders
National team  Canada
NHL Draft 1st overall, 1973
New York Islanders
Playing career 19731988


Playing career

After a stellar junior hockey career with the Ottawa 67s, Potvin was drafted first overall in the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft by the struggling expansion New York Islanders, a team which had recorded the worst record in modern 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 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.[2] 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 defenceman in 1975–76 ending Orr's eight year reign, at age 22, when he scored 31 goals and 98 points, the highest totals by a defenceman other than Orr. That year he finished second to Bobby Clarke in the voting for the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player.

Upon Orr's decline and retirement in the late 1970s, Potvin became widely acknowledged (along with Larry Robinson) as the premier defencemen in the game. He also won the Norris Trophy in 1977–78 and 1978–79. The latter was his best offensive season, when he scored 31 goals and 70 assists in only 73 games, becoming the second defenceman (Orr being the first) to score 100 points in a season. He had an impressive +71 plus-minus rating that season and finished fourth in the balloting for the Hart Trophy. Between 1974–75 and 1980–81, Potvin was named to the NHL's first all-star team five times and the second all-star team once; the only season he missed the all-star teams was 1979–80, when he was only able to play 31 games due to injury.

In Potvin's best season, 1978–79, the talented but young Islanders ultimately lost in semi-finals of the 1979 Stanley Cup playoffs to the New York Rangers in six games, despite being heavily favoured to win the series.[3] 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 Stanley Cup playoffs. Potvin was very productive offensively in the playoffs, with his best year being 1980–81 when he scored 8 goals and 17 assists for 25 points in 18 games. However, he was never able to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff's most valuable player. In the 1983–84 season, Potvin made a comeback of sorts, scoring 85 points and making the NHL's second all-star team.

Potvin was known for being intelligent, articulate, and outspoken off the ice. Throughout the 1970s, these traits often alienated his Islander teammates, as they made Potvin appear arrogant.[4] He offended many hockey fans by stating publicly he had played better in the 1976 Canada Cup than Bobby Orr, and that Orr's selection as tournament MVP was for sentimental reasons.[5] However, as Potvin matured, he became seen as a great leader as he learned to use these same qualities to positively affect his teammates.

Potvin was a more traditional defender than Orr and an extremely physical player. He averaged just under one 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 1987–88 season. He retired as the NHL's leader in goals and points by a defenceman. His career totals were later surpassed by Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey, and others, and as of 2014, he sits fifth in career goals and seventh in career points amongst defencemen.

Potvin claimed to have received an offer from Mike Keenan to come out of retirement and play for the arch-rival New York Rangers in 1993.[6] Keenan has yet to substantiate these claims. Potvin 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 rigours of the game.


Potvin was a color commentator for Florida Panthers television broadcasts on FS Florida from 1993, paired with play-by-play announcers Dave Strader and Steve Goldstein, for over 16 seasons before being replaced by former Panthers player Bill Lindsay in 2009.

In September 2010, Potvin was hired as the Ottawa Senators' television colour analyst, working with Dean Brown on Rogers Sportsnet.[7] In August 2014, he was rehired as colour commentator by the Florida Panthers, working with Steve Goldstein on Fox Sports Florida. As a colour commentator, he is known for his bizarre and inflammatory comments, such as claiming that Daniel and Henrik Sedin "...only use [their] fingers to lick the peanut butter off their bread".[8] On July 29th, 2019 he retired from broadcasting.


Potvin's brother, Jean Potvin, was also an NHL defenceman and the brothers were teammates for a number of years with the Islanders. Both are cousins of former NHLer Marc Potvin.

Career statistics

Regular season and playoffs

    Regular season   Playoffs
Season Team League GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM
1968–69 Ottawa 67's OHA-Jr. 46 12 25 37 83
1969–70 Ottawa 67's OHA-Jr. 46 13 18 31 97 5 2 1 3 9
1970–71 Ottawa 67's OHA-Jr. 57 20 58 78 200 11 4 6 10 26
1971–72 Ottawa 67's OHA-Jr. 48 15 45 60 188
1972–73 Ottawa 67's OHA-Jr. 61 35 88 123 232 9 6 10 16 22
1973–74 New York Islanders NHL 77 17 37 54 175
1974–75 New York Islanders NHL 79 21 55 76 105 17 5 9 14 30
1975–76 New York Islanders NHL 78 31 67 98 100 13 5 14 19 32
1976–77 New York Islanders NHL 80 25 55 80 103 12 6 4 10 20
1977–78 New York Islanders NHL 80 30 64 94 81 7 2 2 4 6
1978–79 New York Islanders NHL 73 31 70 101 58 10 4 7 11 8
1979–80 New York Islanders NHL 31 8 33 41 44 21 6 13 19 24
1980–81 New York Islanders NHL 74 20 56 76 104 18 8 17 25 16
1981–82 New York Islanders NHL 60 24 37 61 83 19 5 16 21 30
1982–83 New York Islanders NHL 69 12 54 66 60 20 8 12 20 22
1983–84 New York Islanders NHL 78 22 63 85 87 20 1 5 6 28
1984–85 New York Islanders NHL 77 17 51 68 96 10 3 2 5 10
1985–86 New York Islanders NHL 74 21 38 59 78 3 0 1 1 0
1986–87 New York Islanders NHL 58 12 30 42 70 10 2 2 4 21
1987–88 New York Islanders NHL 72 19 32 51 112 5 1 4 5 6
NHL totals 1060 310 742 1052 1356 185 56 108 164 253


Year Team Event   GP G A Pts PIM
1976 Canada CC 7 1 8 9 16
1981 Canada CC 7 2 5 7 12
1986 Canada WC 7 1 4 5 6
Senior totals 21 4 17 21 34

Career achievements, records and facts

  • Retired having scored 310 goals and 742 assists for 1,052 points (at the time, the NHL career leader in all those categories for defencemen) in 1,060 games, adding 1,356 penalty minutes.
  • First NHL defenceman to reach 300 goals in regular season.
  • First NHL defenceman to reach 1,000 career points.
  • First player to reach 100 playoff assists in NHL history.
  • Retired as the NHL career leader in playoff goals, assists, and points for defencemen.
  • Led the 1976 Canada Cup tournament in assists (8)
  • Led the 1976 Canada Cup tournament in points (9)
  • Led the 1976 Canada Cup tournament in penalty in minutes (16)
  • 43rd all-time in assists, and 10th among defencemen, as of the end of the 2013–14 season.
  • 66th all-time in points, as of the end of the 2013–14 season.
  • Won the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the NHL's best defenceman in 1976, 1978, and 1979.
  • His jersey #5 was retired by the Islanders on February 1, 1992, the first such honor bestowed by the franchise.
  • In 1991, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame.
  • In 1998, he was ranked number 19 on The Hockey News' list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players.
  • In 2002, he was inducted into the Nassau County Sports Hall of Fame.
  • One of only two players (Bryan Trottier being the other) to play 1,000 games in an Islanders uniform.

See also

  • Notable families in the NHL
  • Captain (ice hockey)
  • List of NHL players with 1000 points
  • List of NHL players with 1000 games played


  1. "100 Greatest NHL Players". January 27, 2017. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  2. Melnyk won't break bank to make playoffs
  3. Fischler, Stan; Botta, Chris (1996). Pride and Passion: 25 Years of the New York Islanders. Walsworth Publishing Co. p. 77. ISBN 1-882608-13-5.
  4. Crowning Glory. Sportschannel. 1992.
  5. "The Hockey News: Top 50 NHL Players of All-Time - The Definitive List". 1997. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. "Ottawa Senators Game Broadcast". Sportsnet East. April 16, 2013.
  7. "CANOE - SLAM! Sports - Hockey NHL - Ottawa- Potvin joins Sens broadcast team". 2010-09-07. Retrieved 2011-10-30.
  8. "Sportsnet 'Mad' Sedins, peanut butter fingers, and what sparked the scrum". 2016-01-12. Retrieved 2016-01-12.
Preceded by
Billy Harris
NHL first overall draft pick
Succeeded by
Greg Joly
Preceded by
Billy Harris
New York Islanders first round draft pick
Succeeded by
Clark Gillies
Preceded by
Clark Gillies
New York Islanders captain
Succeeded by
Brent Sutter
Preceded by
Bobby Orr
Winner of the Norris Trophy
Succeeded by
Larry Robinson
Preceded by
Larry Robinson
Winner of the Norris Trophy
1978, 1979
Succeeded by
Larry Robinson
Preceded by
Steve Vickers
Winner of the Calder Memorial Trophy
Succeeded by
Eric Vail
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