On This Date in Sports November 7, 1975: NHL Blockbuster

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com


In one of the biggest trades in NHL history, the New York Rangers land Phil Esposito from the Boston Bruins. The deal sees Esposito and Carol Vadnais join New York, while Brad Park, Jean Ratelle, and Joe Zanussi. Three of the five players involved in the deal would end in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Phil Esposito had two goals and an assist as the Rangers suffered a 7-5 loss to the California Golden Seals in Oakland. 


Phil Esposito was born on February 20, 1942, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. As a teenager, he signed with the Chicago Black Hawks and played with their OHL affiliate, the St. Catharines Teepees. After spending time with their minor league affiliate, the St. Louis Braves, Phil Esposito made his debut with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1964. Esposito proved himself a quality playmaker in Chicago playing on a line with Bobby Hull, but it was not until a blockbuster trade sent him to Boston that he became an NHL superstar. 


The trade came down on May 15, 1967, with Phil Esposito being sent to the Boston Bruins with Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield for Pitt Martin, Jack Norris, and Gilles Marotte. The deal was transformative for the Bruins, who, along with a rising star on defense named Bobby Orr, became an instant Stanley Cup contender. The deal came when the league expanded, creating a more open game, which allowed more scoring from the days of six teams beating up on each other every night. 


In his first season with the Bruins, Phil Esposito led the NHL in assists with 84, as the Boston Bruins made the playoffs for the first time in nine years. In his second season with the Bruins, Esposito was pure magic, not only reaching 100 points but helping the Bruins achieve 100 points for the first time in team history. Phil Esposito would finish the 1968/69 season with 44 goals and 79 assists, totaling 126 points. This allowed Esposito to become the first member of the Bruins to win the Art Ross Trophy, named after the legendary Bruins coach, and given to the NHL’s scoring champion. Phil Esposito would also win the Hart Trophy, given to the NHL’s MVP. 


The Bruins would fall short in the playoffs in 1969, but one year later won their first Stanley Cup in nearly 30 years. The Bruins would win two Stanley Cups in three years as Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr became the faces of the franchise. Phil Esposito would be the league’s premier scorer of the era, winning five scoring titles in six years, including in 1971, when he scored a record 76 goals. A record that stood for a decade before Wayne Gretzky topped it in 1982. 


The momentum behind the trade surrounded an injury to Bobby Orr and an unhappy Phil Esposito, who did not like getting reduced playing time from coach Don Cherry. The Bruins sought a star defenseman to make up for the loss of Orr and received Brad Park, who often was the second-best defenseman in the NHL, as Bobby Orr set new standards on the blueline. The Bruins also received Jean Ratelle, an underrated scorer who would become the Bruins top scorer. 

 The deal worked out for Boston as the Bruins reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1977 and 1978. The Rangers meanwhile struggled as Carol Vadnais never filled the shoes left by Brad Park. Park and Ratelle would go to the Hall of Fame along with Phil Esposito. New York missed the playoffs in Esposito’s first three seasons but made a surprise run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1979.