Sometimes the best trades are the ones that aren’t made. That’s the case for the New York Islanders and future Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin.
Leading up to the 1973 draft, the New York Islanders had their sights on defenseman Denis Potvin for their first overall pick. But the Montreal Canadiens had plans of their own. Montreal GM Sam Pollock desperately wanted the talented defenseman and typically when Sam wanted something, Sam got it.
Pollock, had a habit of picking high draft picks from expansion teams. The California/Oakland Golden Seals was a particularly favorite target for Sam.
And in 1973 Sam was going to try the same thing, this time with the New York Islanders.
Between 1968 to 1971 Pollock had plucked four top six picks from the California Golden Seals. As VP of Hockey Ops and then the GM (until mid-way through the 1970-71 season) Bill Torrey saw first-hand what happened when a team trades their top picks in a Sam Pollock trade.
The picks the Seals gave up would become:
- 1968 (3rd) – Jim Pritchard
- 1970 (5th) – Ray Martyniuk
- 1971 (1st) – Guy Lafleur (2 Hart, 3 Art Ross, 5 Cups, Hall of Fame)*
- 1972 (6th) – Michel Larocque (4 time Vezina, 1 Cup)*
(*Torrey was no longer with the Golden Seals.)
In return, the Seals got players like Bryan Watson, Ernie Hicke, Carol Vadnais, Norm Ferguson, Stan Fuller, Francois Lacombe, Michel Jacques. As you can imagine, none of those players ever rose to the highest of the picks they traded away.
Bill Torrey wasn’t going to trade away a franchise making defenseman a put himself in a bind like his former team put themselves in. Torrey planned to build his team through the draft and having the first overall pick for the second year in a row would go a long way to build his team.
At the draft, Pollock was relentless. Not only did he go for a long walk around the draft venue in Montreal to pull Torrey’s ear but at the eleventh hour, just before Torrey was going to make his pick, Pollock asked for a parlay with the Isles GM.
The best offer made by the Habs was rumored to include four good players for Potvin. The identity of the players offered by the Canadiens were never revealed, but looking at the players that Pollock had traded away in previous attempts to nab top picks, I doubt the players offered would have moved the needle forward for the Islanders quite as Denis Potvin did.
Just imagine the lineup Montreal could have fielded with Denis Potvin in the mix. The Habs 1972-73 roster already included Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe. All of which would become Hall of Fame defensemen just like Potvin.
The Habs had already won five cups between 1972 and 1979, so who knows how many more they could have won with Denis Potvin in the mix.
For the Islanders, who knows what would have happened. The build through the draft plan might have been altered right there and then for the Islanders. A plan that was the defining factor in them becoming a dynasty. Without Potvin, it’s hard to see the Isles have the same success they had.
Sometimes the best trades are the ones that aren’t made. For Bill Torrey and the New York Islanders, not trading away Denis Potvin was a massive win.