Legendary hockey reporter Stan Fischler writes a weekly scrapbook for NHL.com. Known as “The Hockey Maven,” Fischler shares his humor and insight with readers every Wednesday.
With the Upper Deck 2022 NHL draft taking place this week at the Bell Center in Montreal, Fischler goes back to 1973 when award-winning defender Denis Botvin was sure to be the number one pick. It was the New Yorkers’ first choice, but the melodrama was revealed when the Montreal Canadiens made an all-out attempt to trade for the miracle.
In the days leading up to the 1973 NHL Draft in Montreal, there was little doubt as to who would be the first pick. defenseman Dennis Botvin He was on the line alone as the best potential client.
“They used to call him ‘The Next Bobby Orr,'” remembers Bill Torey, general manager of Islanders.
Early in the 1972-73 season, Toure commissioned scout Jim Devilano to determine if Botvin’s enthusiastic reports were legitimate. Devellano – now executive vice president of Detroit Red Wings – received only rave reviews.
“I told Bill this kid was a man we should have, no matter what we had to do,” Devilano recalls.
With that in mind, the islanders traded center Terry Crisp for the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for defender Jean Botvin. This automatically made the islanders more attractive to Denis, who worshiped his older brother.
Tori needed all the ammo he could get to land Dennis because there was a new competition from the rebel World Hockey League, who was entering its second season and had money to burn in search of talent.
“The WHA knows what we know, that Dennis was big, he was present and he could score,” Tory said. “Sure, he was a legitimate star in the future.”
Three teams from the WHA – Chicago Cougars, New York Raiders and Ottawa Nationals – were bidding for Botvin but it was clear that Dennis wanted to play alongside his older brother.
“Islanders were already on the record saying that money would be nothing when it came to moving me to New York,” Botvin said.
Sam Bullock, the Montreal Canadiens general manager, has been devising ways to contain Botvin.
“My agent told me that the Canadians were offering me four good players,” Botvin revealed. “But I didn’t want to play in Montreal. I felt I would be under a lot of pressure to be a star right away.”
On the morning of the draft, Bullock invited Toure for a walk in downtown Montreal, and it wasn’t for exercise either.
“We walked around the building once and Sam was working on me really well,” Tori recalled. “He had many possibilities and I thought about them all, but I was convinced we had to build the team around Dennis. I told him I was committed to my plan to pick Dennis. But Sammy wouldn’t give up.”
In contrast to this year’s project to be held in the vast Bell Center in Montreal, the 1973 edition was limited to a large hotel room. The proceedings began when NHL President Clarence Campbell walked to the podium and called for order.
“We are ready to begin,” the chief declared, then pointed to Tori, who was about to move when a sound erupted above the crowd.
It was Bullock.
“Mr. Campbell,” Bullock asked, “may I interrupt for a moment to speak with Mr. Torey?”
“It looks like my worst fear was about to be confirmed,” said the Future Hall of Fame. Bullock was about to close the big deal. Bill and Sammy spoke for half a minute. Finally, Bullock returned to his seat and Campbell went back to the microphone and said, ‘Bill Torey is a New Yorker, you have the first choice.’
Bill got to his feet, raised his chin, and for the longest split second of my life, he said, ‘New Yorkers wish to enlist as their first choice — Dennis Botvin.
The post-choice hubbub of the Botvin family wasn’t quite up to the Stanley Cup winning scene but it was nothing short of exhilarating. I’ll let Botvin tell it as he did in his autobiography, The Force on Ice.
My dad was running all over the place saying, ‘Hey, I’m Mr. Botvin! ” Jean was crying with joy that we were back together again. And my mother, God bless her, handled anger better – with a drink!”
As for Bullock and the Canadians, they did well in the 1973 draft as well. The Canadians chose striker Bob Gainey with the 8th pick.
Gainey has won the Stanley Cup five times as a player and once as an executive with the Canadians. Botvin won the cup four times with the Islanders. All of them were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Botvin in 1991, and Jenny the following year.