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July 14, 2013

Phil Esposito

One of the game's greatest forwards and one of the game's greatest goalies grew up in the same family home. Phil practiced shooting against brother Tony for hours on end, and by 1970 both had reached the top of the hockey world and we're both named to the First All Star Team.

Tony is best known as a Chicago Blackhawk. It is often forgotten that Phil got his start in the NHL in the Windy City (in 1963-64), though it was a few years before Tony arrived. Phil of course is best known as a Boston Bruin and to a lesser degree as a New York Rangers.

Phil played three seasons as a Blackhawk, and was once touted as Bobby Hull's center of the future. However 3 and 1/2 seasons of averaging around 20 goals and 55 points, Chicago changed their mind on him. They felt he wasn't living up to his potential, and that his skating wasn't quick enough.

Phil joined the Bruins in a six player trade in 1967 from Chicago. Hindsight is always 20/20, but history tells us that this trade was one of the most lopsided in NHL history. Espo, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield were all sent to Boston and would all become key players of one of hockey's most explosive teams in the 1970s. Going to Chicago was Pit Martin, Jack Norris and Gilles Marotte.

Esposito was teamed up with Bobby Orr in Boston, forming one of the most dynamic scoring duos in hockey history. Orr would dance around from his point position with no one knowing how to defend against hockey's first offensively dominant defenseman. Esposito would park himself in the slot, readying himself for a pass, a deflection or a rebound. He was such a master of scoring garbage goals that a common saying in Boston in these days was "Jesus saves, but Espo scores on the rebound." Stan Fischler once dubbed Espo as the "highest paid garbage collector in the United States."

In his very first year in Boston Espo led the entire league in assists. By year two He became the first player to break the 100 point plateau. In fact, he smashed the old record held by Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull. Both of those magnificent Chicago players shared the record with 97 points in a single season. In 1968-69, Phil scored 126 points!! Two years later he would again post mind boggling totals of 76 goals and 76 assists for 152 points, unheard of stats then especially, and even by today's standards absolutely amazing!

Three years after the trade Espo led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup, ending a 29 year drought for the B's. Although Bobby Orr's flying-through-the-air Cup clinching goal against the Blues is best remembered, Esposito had an incredible playoff, scoring 13 goals and 27 points in just 14 games, leading all post season scorers in each category Two years later, the Bruins won another Stanley Cup with Esposito scoring 24 points in 15 games.

During his 8 1/2 years in Boston, Phil won 5 scoring titles and finished second twice. He led the NHL in goal scoring 6 straight seasons from 1969-70 to 1974-75. He was named to either the first or second All Star team each year he wore the black and gold. He was also a two time winner of the Hart Trophy (MVP) and Pearson Trophy (MVP as chosen by the players), as well as the recipient of the Lester Patrick Trophy for contribution to hockey in the U.S.

Espo should be known as the greatest offensive force prior to Gretzky and Lemieux, but he was overshadowed by his even more amazing teammate Bobby Orr. And despite all the accolades and awards, Phil somehow never quite got the recognition he deserved. All of his success was credited to the presence of Orr. Despite the fact he was smashing the records of Gordie Howe or Maurice Richard, no one has ever placed him in their stratosphere. This could be because of his lack of graceful style as a hockeyist.

One of Espo's greatest hockey moments occurred in Europe. When Orr missed the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviets with a bad knee, Esposito took charge of the team and was the inspirational leader. He played a level never reached before. While everyone remembers Paul Henderson's game ending heroics, it was Phil's heroic effort was a key factor in the victory and finally won him the accolades he deserved.

Phil had a great charisma, much like a Hollywood actor. He was a fan favorite throughout North America, but also in Russia. While Vladislav Tretiak became adopted by Canadian fans as the hero from the enemy team, Russian people grew to love Espo, even though his style of hockey was not seen in Russia. It largely has to do with the pre-game introductions in the first game in Moscow where Espo tripped over a loose flower and fell on his butt when he was introduced. Ever the showman, Espo got up and did a curtsy much to the delight of the Soviet fans. They rarely had seen a hockey player with such personality.

While Paul Henderson gets much of the heroic credit for his game winning goals, it is well recognized that Phil Esposito was the best player for Canada. Without him, there was no way Canada would have conquered.

Phil Esposito was traded to the New York Rangers during the 1975-76 season and would finish his career on Broadway. The reason behind the trade was that Orr's knees had finally all but given up on him, and the Bruins were looking to regroup by trading a few of their top assets.

The adjustment was at first very difficult for Phil, but he soon learned to like New York and next thing you know it could have been named Espoville - it was his kind of town! He average 30 plus goals and a point a game in his 6 seasons in New York. His Ranger highlite was during the 1978-79 playoffs when he was a great leader in the Rangers spectacular playoff drive that finished just shy of the Stanley Cup.

Phil Esposito retired in 1980-81. Phil Esposito's final statistics are absolutely mind boggling. 1282 games played, 717 goals, 873 assists for 1590 points! At the time of his retirement only Gordie Howe had amassed more points! He added 61 goals and 137 points in 130 playoff games and 30 points in 25 international games. Not bad for a guy who didn't learn to skate until he was a teenager.

Espo's career highlight came after retirement. On Dec. 3, 1987 the Bruins retired their great leader's jersey. Ray Bourque, whose stature is such that he need not defer to anyone, relinquished his No. 7 and from then on wore 77, so that Esposito's jersey could be retired and elevated to the rafters of the Garden.

"I don't care (about being inducted into) the Hall of Fame, to tell you the truth," he said. "My biggest thrill was having my number retired at Boston Garden. That to me is where it's at."

In retirement Phil became a pitchman and a broadcaster, but he also was a successful hockey executive. He became general manager and for a short time head coach of the New York Rangers. Later he was one of the founders of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

7 comments:

JAY DAVIDSON said...

I am in Boston and saw Espo's whole career. Phil was NOTHING more than a"garbage collector!"

If it wasn't for Hodge and Csshman feeding him he would have subpar numbers.

His playoff stats were favorable, but 1/2 of his production in playoffs were against his brother in goal in Chicago.

ESPO was a failure in Playoff action.
3 measely goals in the 1971 playoff series vs Montreal. NO GOALS in the 1972 final. Bobby Clarke ate him for lunch in the 1974 final.

The trade brought us Jean Ratelle and Brad Park. Both were magnificent....

Brad scored a playoff winning goal in OT IN 1983 and Jean notched a hatrick in a 1979 playoff contest vs Montreal the third score in an OT classic.

Espo NEVER SCORED AN OVERTIME GOAL.

He was one of the heroes in the 1972 series vs USSR, but in the playoffs for us in Boston, he did nothing.........

Sid Moniuk said...

Phil Anthony Esposito was a scoring phenom.
An incredible player with the heart of a raging bull.
His regular season stats shows he scored 717 goals...but its the 873 assists which are remarkable as well making stars out of Cashman, Hodge and yes with his skills as a superior faceoff man assisted on many of Bobby Orrs goals including both goals he scored in the 72 Cup final.
In both of the Bruins playoff runs 70 and 72 Phil amassed 27 points in 14 games then 24 in 15 games.

What was even more incredible was, after undergoing surgery for a career-threatening knee injury, Esposito returned to the ice with an MVP season in 1973-74, scoring 68 goals and 77 assists.

The '72 Summit Series......wow. He took playing to different level. Total heart.

In 79-79 Phil was a point behind the much younger Hedberg in team scoring and tied Don Maloney for team scoring in the playoffs with 8 goals and 12 assists in 18 games. He was 3rd in scoring 3 points behind Lemaire and Lafleur. Not bad for a 38 year old.

Sinden may have traded him to NYR...but years later Harry said "Phil had such a presence."

JAY DAVIDSON said...

Hey Sid, I am in Boston, where are you?
I saw Espo's whole career, and he was what I said he was.......a garbage collector.

You have to remember what the NHL was in those days.......2/3 of the teams were 'expansion' teams. made up of AHL Players and retreads from the original six.

This was the competition ESPO competed against. He and ORR piled on the points. The golaies they faced were AHL quality.

The true test of a great athlete is what did he do in post season play?

ESPO faced his brother in 3 playoff series and scored goals in bunches. But against the IRON of the league, Montreal in 1968-9-1971, ESPO wa a no show. In 1972 he had a handful of assists in the 1972 finals the Rangers.

I was at the game when he got injured against the Rangers in 1973. He had his down and Ron Harris nailed him.

That was right after Phil missed an open net that would have tied game two of that series.

In the 1974 final Espo was eaten for lunch by Bobby Clarke and the Flyers. They shut him right down.

Coach Bep Guidolin said Espo was negotiating with the WHA throughout the 1974 final, and not concentrating on the series with Philadelphia..

He was traded by Harry Sinden becuase Harry knew Bobby Orr was done and Espo would bring Brad Park to Boston.

Along with Brad came 35 yr old Jean Ratelle. Let me tell you about Ratelle.

In a nervewracking series with the LA Kings in 1976 it went to 7 games.

We threw everything at Rogie Vachon for 1 1/2 periods. He stood on his head.

Bruins had a power play. Ken Hodge snapped a pass towards Ratelle and Jean buried it......1-0 Bruins.

In the third period, 35 yr old Ratelle blew right thru the young LA Defensemen, and blasted a slap shot thru Vachonfor his second goal....we won 3-0

In 1978 against the hated Flyers, in OT, 37 yrd old Jean outmuscled Bobby Clarke on a face off, and fired a pass to Rick Middleton, who beat Benie Parent high to the glove side to win an important
game.

Now it's 1979 and we were trying
to tie up the playoff series with Montreal

It was a must win,. It's tied 3-3 in OT. Suddenly Middleton flies down the left wing and zips a pass towards the slot, 38 yr old Ratelle puts on a burst of speed, leaves Serge SaVARD IN THE DUST, CORALLS THE PUCK, AND IN ONE MOTION TURNS IT TO HIS FOREHAND AND DRILLS IT PAST KEN DRYDEN TO WIN THE GAME.

I want somebody to tell me if ESPO
EVER SCORED AN OT PLAYOFF GOAL

I didn't think so.

Espo was a choker.............guys like Brad Park and Jean Ratelle were winners...

Frank Johnson said...

espo scored the OT goal that eliminated the kings in the opening round series in 1979. so yes, he did score an ot playoff goal.

1979 Stanley Cup Prelims (Best of Three)
Game 2 April 12, 1979: NY Rangers 2, Kings 1 (OT) Series: 0-2
LOS ANGELES - New York’s Phil Esposito scored two goals, including the game-winner in overtime, as the Rangers defeated the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 in the preliminary playoff round.

Despite playing with a pulled groin, Esposito was able to play the role of hero for the Rangers, breaking a 1-1 tie with a goal at the 6:11 mark of overtime.

“This is as exciting as anything that’s ever happened to me in the past,” Esposito told the United Press International in 1979.

Mark Eddy said...

Jay Davidson, I don't know who you think you were watching in Boston, but I watched Esposito in those years too. And he had an absolutely deadly shot from the slot. An incredibly accurate shooter. He also had a great knack for being in the right place around the net, which is what I assume you mean by 'garbage goals'. Let me tell you son, it took guts to stay in the dirty areas around the net in those days. Esposito battled hard to be in position for every one of those 'garbage goals'.

After Orr, Esposito is probably the greatest Boston Bruin ever.

Esposito was also the undisputed leader of those Bruins teams. There's a reason he was their captain. That leadership is the single most important reason that Canada was able to come back against the USSR in 1972. Canada was a far better team, but utterly disorganized and discouraged. Esposito carried that team on his back, like no one has ever done before or since.

If you actually believe Jean Ratelle was even half the player that Esposito was, you are no judge of hockey talent.

JAY DAVIDSON said...

Mark:

I am not a judge of talent? Here are my credentials. I went to my first game at BOSTON GARDEN FEB 10, 1963............I was 11. The game ended a 5-5 tie.

My grandpop was head barkeep for the pub under the arena and became friendly

with Weston Adams SR. Hence I went to many games by myself but that allowed me to get a better seat.

I went to a bunch of games. All thru the 60's and my grandpop even got us 4 tix
May 10, 1970 when they won the Cup.

After this Championship Espo's stats began to soar. There were now 8 expansion
teams in the NHL and the quality of the Hockey was no better than AHL calibre.
The GOALIES were awful. Glen Hall was 41 the day Bobby scored that famous goal

Consequently, All the top forwards in the league begab to pile up the points. ESPO
was being fed by Hodge, Cashman, Bucyk,Orr, Bobby Hull, Makita, Howe, Redmond, Lemaire, and others were suddenly passing the 100 pt plateau.

In the 70-71 season ESPO notched 76 goals. The Bruins as a team clocked 399

Well as we now know looking back they were upset by Ken Dryden. Hilites
are available in eh youtube browser WORST GAME FOR BRUINS APR 8, 1971
THne punch in MONTREAL wins 1971 stanley cup.IT WILL SHOW HILITES of game 7.

Celtics legend Bill Russell played in 10 series that swent 7 games. His record 10-0

WATCH GAME SEVEN HILITES AS ESPO AND BOBBY ORR TAKE THE GAS PIPE.

BOTH WERE ON THE ICE FOR 3 OF THE 4 GOALS in a 4-2 loss. ESPO AND ORR WERE BLANKED IN THE MOST IMPORTANT GAME THEY EVER PLAYED !

In the 1972 final ESPO was blanked again. Bobby Orrr led us to the Cup.

In the 1974 final ESPO'S contract was up and he was courted and played golf
with people from the WHA, when he should have been practicing. Bobby Clarke
in the deciding game six won 20 of 29 face offs from Phil.

In 1976 I finally landed a pair of season tickets first row in the balcony. I physically

watched hundreds of games. How about you MARK ?

The 40th anniversary of "THE TRADE" is coming up Nov 7th. That trade got us
Brad PARK and Jean Ratelle. The best defenseman in the league and a quality
center.

Here are some stats to chew on :
ESPO RATELLE
1975-76 SEASON 83 pts 105
1976-77 " 80 94
1977-78 " 81 84
1978-79 " 78 72

PLAYOFFS ESPO..............Only two seasons 11 goals.............18 helpers
RATELLE..................1976-79 23 goals..............43 helpers

Ratty made major contributions to us reaching the finals and semis. GAME ONE 1978 in OT vs Philly (I hated the Flyers) Ratelle WINS THE DRAW FROM BOBBY
CLARKE,sends the puck to Rick Middleton who snaps it past Bernie Parent to win game one. But his performance in game 4 of the 1979 semi final vs Montreal
was at 38 yrs of age scoring a hatrick including the winner in OT ws a thrill I will never forget.........

The great Hockey writer STAN FISCHLER SAID IT BEST...

...".Phil Esposito
was the MOST EXPENSIVE GARBAGE COLLECTOR ON THE PLANET"

Ravenswing said...

Here are MY credentials, Jay: my grandfather was an original Bruins' season ticket holder in 1924 and had season tix for over fifty years, and took me to many games. I've been a player, a referee, a hockey journalist, a TV broadcaster and the fellow who wrote the notability standards for hockey on Wikipedia.

Great. Are we done with the "mine is bigger than yours" crap? Because, of course, the number of Bruins' games you've personally attended doesn't mean jack. There are a lot of people who go to hockey games and can't judge talent or performance. Looks like you're Exhibit A.

Your foaming at the mouth does, for instance, lean on any time Espo didn't carry the Bruins on his back and conveniently ignores every time he did. But here's the kicker: for some reason you think that Hodge and Cash were unique talents and Espo was nothing without them. Alright, they were fine players, but neither of them ever led the league in anything and no one's giving them HHOF votes. (You're also conveniently ignoring that Espo broke the scoring record with Ron Murphy on the left hand side, no All-Star he.)

And examine that more closely with some other stars of the era. You think that Espo benefited more from his linemates than Guy Lafleur, say? You're saying that Steve Shutt and Pete Mahovlich were poorer players? I'd have dealt Hodge/Cash for Shutt/Little M in a heartbeat. Darryl Sittler had Lanny McDonald and Tiger Williams on his wings. I'd have made that swap too. Bobby Hull had Pit Martin and Jim Pappin feeding him pucks. Ratelle-Hatfield-Gilbert? Lemaire-Big M-Cournoyer? The French Connection? Bill Goldsworthy getting pucks from Danny Grant and Jude Drouin and Dennis Hextall? Barber-Clarke-Leach? Gillies-Trottier-Bossy? Heck, take the two-man shows. Mickey Redmond got his pucks, in his best years, from Alex Delvecchio and Marcel Dionne, respectively. Stan Mikita had Dennis Hull on the wing.

Esposito outscored them all. Every damn one of them. He outscored Hull and Mikita, Ratelle and Sittler, Lafleur and Mahovlich, Goldsworthy and Leach and Trots. All of them. If he was so lousy as all of that, why didn't Hull outscore him those years? Mikita? Ratelle? Lafleur?

So his scoring declined in New York? Gosh golly, if you're such a hockey expert as all of that, how is it you missed that athletes in their mid to late thirties tend to -- wait for it -- decline. (An amazing concept, I know. Why, Wayne Gretzky only scored nine goals his last season; Gordie Howe only scored 15. They must have sucked!) Even so, Espo kept racking up 40 goal seasons with the likes of Eddie Johnstone and a faded Dan Maloney feeding him.

Guys like you always hated Esposito partly out of ignorance, and partly for superficial reasons: he didn't look like a Great Hockey Hero. Sorta dumpy looking Italian guy, he didn't skate like the wind like Orr did, didn't have burning deadly eyes like Richard did, didn't have flowing locks like Lafleur did, didn't have a slapshot hard enough to kill a man like Hull did, didn't terrorize people like Howe did. No sportswriter ever gave him a legendary nickname.

Nope. All he did was get the job done, and while people like you don't quite understand -- I bet you're one of those Bruins' fans who don't care if they lose by four goals so long as the boys win all the fights -- hockey games are won only in one of two ways: putting pucks in the other guys' net, and keeping them out of your own.

Phil Esposito was the best in the 1970s at doing the former. Bar none. He's got a couple Cup rings to show for it.

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