September 01, 2014

Remembering Carol Vadnais

Former NHL defenceman Carol Vadnais died Sunday at the age of 68. He had been fighting cancer.

Vadnais was one of a number of 1970s defensemen who put up good numbers offensively and played the game with physical flair, but never really got recognized as one of the game's top blue liners.

Certainly Vadnais was not of the same caliber as Bobby Orr (who he played with for 5 seasons), Brad Park (who, as part of a bigger package, he was traded for), Larry Robinson, Denis Potvin or childhood friend Serge Savard. And he was not nearly as celebrated as 1970s tough defensemen like Ed Van Impe, Keith Magnuson or King Kong Korab.

Instead Vadnais was in a group of mobile defenders such as Dale Tallon, Jimmy Watson and Ian Turnbull who never quite seemed as appreciated as they could have been. Sure, Vadnais was susceptible to defensive errors from time to time, truly separating him from the league's elite. That and his reputation for lack of fitness and heavy smoking throughout various points of his career. But he did score 169 goals and 418 assists for 587 points in a lengthy career spanning 1087 games.

Vadnais briefly started his career with his hometown Montreal Canadiens in 1966, getting his name on the Stanley Cup in 1968. From there he was claimed in the expansion draft and blossomed in Oakland as captain of the Oakland/California Seals.

In 1972 he joined the Boston Bruins for several seasons, winning another Stanley Cup in year one. He was sent to the New York Rangers in 1975 as part of a blockbuster deal that also sent Phil Esposito to the Rangers.

Vadnais enjoyed New York until 1982. He extended his career by crossing the river and playing with the first year New Jersey Devils in 1982-83. He then retired as one of the very last players who played in the Original Six era.

Vadnais originally stayed in the game, working as a NHL scout and junior coach. Later in life he returned home to Montreal, specifically Laval, and worked in commercial and industrial real estate.

Vadnais probably did not find it very funny at the time, but he liked to tell the story of how he was mistakenly arrested by four FBI agents in Philadelphia as a suspect in a bank robbery in a case of mistaken identity.

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