Slow, big, clumsy with no real skill. Hacks in front of the net for all his goals. This is an opinion about Phil Esposito I remember being bounced amongst the armchair experts in the 1970’s. Something along the lines of Bobby Orr does all the work and Esposito cherry picks for all the glory.
Well, that’s bullshit. That’s an opinion given by the same kind of people that said Gretzky couldn’t skate. Esposito led the NHL in scoring five times. What goes unnoticed is that he also led the league in assists on three occasions.
He was a two time Stanley Cup champion that won the Hart Trophy twice and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Phil wasn’t a hack, he was one of the best to play the game.
Phil Esposito – Junior and Minor Pro
Phil Esposito was a late but fast rising star. At 18, he was playing Junior B hockey with the Sarnia Legionnaires. A year later, 1961-62, he was playing his lone season of Major Junior hockey with the St. Catherines Teepees.
Phil Esposito Collection
In 1961-62, Esposito scored 32 and assisted on 39 for 71 points over 49 games with St. Catherines. He finished eighth in goal scoring and tied for sixth for assists with Lowell MacDonald of the Hamilton Red Wings. In the race for the Eddie Powers Trophy, his 71 points placed him tied for sixth with Rejean Richer of the Montreal Junior Canadiens.
That year, he also saw his first pro action, playing six games for his hometown Sault Ste. Marie Thunderbirds in the EPHL. In 1962-63, he would remain in the EPHL but play for the St. Louis Braves.
It might not have been obvious in 1962-63 that Phil would go on to make a mess of the NHL record book. However, it was becoming very obvious that he did have a lengthy NHL career ahead of him. As a rookie in the EPHL, he totaled 90 points on 36 goals and 54 points over 71 games.
In 1962-63, Esposito finished fifth in the league for goals, tied for fourth for assists and sixth for points. The team was led by Murray Hall with 98 points and Alain Caron scored 61 goals in just 54 games. Future Calder Trophy winner Roger Crozier played in net for 70 of the team’s 72 games. Yet, St. Louis finished last in the four team EPHL with no post season.
Phil started 1963-64 again with the Braves, now in the CPHL. Playing just 43 games before being called up permanently to the NHL, Esposito scored 26 and assisted on 54 for 80 points. Projected over a 72 games schedule, Phil would have led the league with 90 assists and 134 points, 29 assists more than league leader Barclay Plager of the Omaha Knights and nine more points than league leader Alain Caron.
As it was, Esposito finished second in assists behind Plager and fifth in points. Alain Caron had one of the greatest seasons in minor pro history with 77 goals. Jack McCartan was now in net for the Knights, playing in 67 games. Phil moved on to the Chicago Blackhawks, playing 27 games for the National Hockey league club.
Phil Esposito – NHL
Between 1963-64 and 1980-81, Phil Esposito played in 1,282 regular season NHL games with the Blackhawks, Bruins and New York Rangers. Over that time, he scored 717 and assisted on 873 for 1,590 points.
In the Stanley Cup playoffs, he added 137 points in 130 games. His playoff success started early with the Blackhawks reaching the finals in 1964-65 before falling to the Montreal Canadiens. He would go on to win two Stanley Cup championships and be a finalist two more times.
Over his career, Esposito topped the 100 point plateau six times. He was the first ever player to pass 100 points with 126 in 1968-69. He was a 50 goal scorer five times, topping out with 76 in 1970-71, a record that seemed unbreakable until a kid named Wayne Gretzky came along. Phil remains one of just eight NHL players to score 70 or more in a single season.
Phil won the Art Ross Trophy five times and the Hart Trophy twice. He is one of nine NHL players to be awarded the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete, doing it in 1972. He was a First Team All-Star six times and a Second Team All-Star twice.
He was a Stanley Cup champion with the Bruins in 1969-70 and 1971-72. Along with reaching the finals with Chicago in 1964-65, Esposito was with the Bruins when they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1973-74 and played a major role in the Rangers reaching the finals in 1978-79 before losing to the Montreal Canadiens.
Esposito led the NHL in goal scoring six times, but the hidden honour is his three times leading the league in assists. He led in 1967-68 with 49, in 1968-69 with 77 and in 1972-73 with 75.
But, it all started to come around in 1966-67 while still hidden in Bobby Hull’s shadow in Chicago. It was his final year with the Blackhawks before the big trade. He tied for sixth in the National Hockey League with 40 assists, equaling none other than Gordie Howe of the Red Wings. He tied for seventh in the race for the Art Ross Trophy with Phil Goyette of the Rangers, both with 61 points.
On March 15, 1967, before the ice had probably even melted at the old Chicago Stadium, Phil was dealt to the Bruins. Going with him were Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield. Going to the Blackhawks were Gilles Marotte, Pit Martin and Jack Norris.
The next blockbuster came on November 7, 1975. After starting the season with a respectable 16 points in 12 games for Boston, Esposito was traded to the Rangers with Carol Vadnais for Brad Park, Jean Ratelle and Joe Zanussi. At that time, he switched from number 7 to number 77 with Rod Gilbert already with the digit in New York.
Immediately in New York, Phil was team captain. He replaced Brad Park and wore the ‘C’ from 1975-76 to 1977-78. The honour was then given to Dave Maloney.
On the international front, Esposito continued to be successful. In the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, Phil played in all eight games and led with 13 points. Of course, Canada scratched out a win in the series.
At the 1976 Canada Cup, Phil contributed seven points in seven games. Canada won the tournament, sweeping Czechoslovakia in the best of three final series. The following year, he was team captain for Canada at the IIHF World Championships. Canada finished fourth while the Czechs won gold at the tournament held in Vienna, Austria.
Phil Esposito was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984, along with Jacques Lemaire and Bernie Parent. In 1987, his number 7 was retired by the Boston Bruins with Ray Bourque switching from 7 to 77 like Phil had back in 1975-76 with the Rangers.
Phil Esposito – Staff
After hanging up the blades 41 games into the 1980-81 season, Esposito immediately took the position of assistant coach with the Rangers for the rest of the campaign. He became general manager in New York from 1986-87 to 1988-89, also taking on the head coaching job for the start of 1986-87 before being replaced by Tom Webster.
Esposito was behind the Tampa Bay Lightning joining the National Hockey League in 1992-93. He served as the team’s president and general manager from 1992-93 to 1997-98. Following that, Phil ventured into team ownership with the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones from 2001-02 to 2003-04.
Phil Esposito – Rookie Card
The Phil Esposito rookie card appears as number 116 in the 1965-66 Topps set and is shown with the Chicago Blackhawks. The card is the most valuable in the set. The 1966-67 Topps card was his only other one with Chicago.
The 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee card comes with an error. Shown with the Rangers, the stats on the back have him scoring 78 goals in 78 games in 1972-73. In fact, he scored a much lower but still decent 55 goals.
Phil Esposito Career Stats
|1961-62||Sault Ste. Marie Thunderbirds||EPHL||6||0||3||3||2|
|1961-62||St. Catharines Teepees||OHA||49||32||39||71||54|
|1962-63||Syracuse/St. Louis Braves||EPHL||71||36||54||90||51|
|1963-64||St. Louis Braves||CPHL||43||26||54||80||65|
|1975-76||New York Rangers||NHL||62||29||38||67||28|
|1976-77||New York Rangers||NHL||80||34||46||80||52|
|1977-78||New York Rangers||NHL||79||38||43||81||53|
|1978-79||New York Rangers||NHL||80||42||36||78||37|
|1979-80||New York Rangers||NHL||80||34||44||78||73|
|1980-81||New York Rangers||NHL||41||7||13||20||20|