Denis Potvin heard Charlie McAvoy’s name and chuckled. Ho ho ho ho.
“I was just talking to a friend about that hit,” the Hall of Fame defenseman said. “Holy cow. How big is he?”
Listed at 6 feet, 208 pounds.
“Geez,” Potvin said. “I suppose it doesn’t surprise me, coming from any Bruin, to go hit a guy who’s a lot bigger.”
McAvoy’s teammate, Jake DeBrusk, might disagree with the idea that he’s a smaller defenseman.
“He’s got a lot of meat over there,” said DeBrusk.
McAvoy’s steamrolling of Jordan Staal (6-4, 220) was the most memorable moment of the Boston-Carolina series, according to a few Hall of Famers who appreciate the way a team’s playoff fortunes can change from one bone-rattling bodycheck.
In flattening the Hurricanes’ captain in the third period of Game 4, McAvoy all but burst their bubble, and it was a spark in a four-goal third-period explosion that gave Boston a 3-1 series lead.
“That was like hitting a truck, that’s for sure,” said Bruins president Cam Neely, who was watching from his post in the team’s Scotiabank Arena suite. “It’s hard in the building when there isn’t the energy from the fans. You have to create that energy on your own.”
McAvoy has been doing just that. At 22, he has become the Bruins’ No. 1 defenseman, accepting the torch from partner Zdeno Chara. Before the hit, McAvoy showcased all of his considerable gifts: speed, timing, playmaking instincts, conditioning, and strength.
After a Carolina faceoff win, McAvoy fielded a high lob near his own blue line, eluded and separated from a forechecking Nino Niederreiter, and walked the wall into the zone. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand had a chance in front off McAvoy’s entry. With five Carolina skaters watching Marchand, who collected the rebound on the half-wall, McAvoy got open on the far side, took a shot into traffic, and cycled back out high with the puck loose in front.
After that, with a TOI clock that would rise near 25 minutes, he changed the series.
The puck dribbled to the boards. McAvoy saw Staal, desperate to relieve pressure. McAvoy cut a semicircle pattern, baiting Staal into thinking he had open ice. Staal’s hands were extended, the puck at the end of his reach, as he revved his engine to get out of the zone.
With three quick crossovers, McAvoy took away Staal’s time and space until he had nowhere else to go … but down.
The conversation among some in the league offices: If Staal’s Hurricanes crest had been a dartboard, McAvoy would have hit the bull’s-eye. Nothing McAvoy did caused the referees to think about levying a charging or Rule 48 call.
“He stays low through the hit, lets his strength do the work for him without exploding, and avoids the head entirely,” said a senior league official, requesting anonymity to speak freely on the hit. “Just textbook from a rules perspective.”
Potvin and fellow Hall of Famer Brad Park, at the top of the game in the ’70s and ’80s, got away with plenty more in their day, but this was one they’d be proud of.
“Staal didn’t even look up, which, uh-oh,” said Park. “He closed on him so quickly.”
“If you’re initiating that hit, it’s like hitting a golf ball 300 yards,” Potvin said. “There’s no effort to it. You don’t even feel it. It’s right on the numbers.
“I’m very impressed with McAvoy. He’s quick to make the pass, and move his feet. He doesn’t glide. I like his instincts. He’s got great vision of the ice.”
Park agreed: “His intensity is terrific. He’s not a big guy. He’s not going to win every battle in the corner, but he’s going to go in the corner. He plays with the right kind of aggression.”
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy plays a zone defense, but McAvoy’s closing speed lets him break out of the layered structure, challenge opponents all over the ice, and retreat quickly.
“He is one guy we’ll allow to stray a little bit,” Cassidy said, “because he can excel with his vision and hockey IQ and timing. We don’t want to stifle that.”
McAvoy, a salary-cap bargain the next two seasons ($4.9 million AAV), has a huge payday coming as a restricted free agent in 2022. He will be 25, and likely a regular part of the Norris Trophy conversation.
Depending on Torey Krug’s residency and Matt Grzelcyk’s development, McAvoy could be running the power play. Even at his current youthful stage, there are few boxes he does not check.
Hawerchuk left a fine legacy
The hockey world paid tribute this past week to Dale Hawerchuk, who died Tuesday at 57 after a long battle with stomach cancer. Hawerchuk finished four rounds of chemotherapy in mid-April, but the disease returned in July.
Before that fight, Hawerchuk spent nine years as coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts, where he mentored Mark Scheifele, Aaron Ekblad, Kevin Labanc, and others. Those who were close to him say his passion never waned.
“Every game, he was excited about the game,” said Paul MacLean, his winger for seven years in Winnipeg and now a Columbus assistant. “That’s what really made him special.”
If not for Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, Hawerchuk might be remembered as the best scorer of the 1980s. His arrival, via the No. 1 overall pick in the ’81 draft, improved Winnipeg by 48 points. It remains one of the largest single-season jumps in league history.
He had one of the great Calder Trophy seasons: 103 points in 80 games. Only Peter Stastny, Teemu Selanne, and Alex Ovechkin scored more as rookies.
Netminder Brian Hayward had never seen anything like Hawerchuk when he arrived in Winnipeg from Cornell in ’82. Hawerchuk didn’t have evasive speed or a bruising body, but his hands dissected defenses on the way to 1,409 points in 1,188 career games.
“He would thread the needle with flat passes; it was an eye-opener,” said Hayward, the longtime color analyst for the Ducks. “He would slow the game down, then change the shooting angle so quickly.
“He didn’t have a huge reach. He wouldn’t move it 10 feet like Mario. He would move it 3 feet, but extremely fast. Scored some incredible goals. He would pick the puck up behind the net, beat three guys, go end to end. He was so deceptive.”
Hawerchuk’s Jets were among the league’s better teams, but lost six playoff series to the dynastic Oilers and one to the Flames. They won two playoff rounds in his nine seasons.
With Hawerchuk at the top of his game in ’85 — career highs in goals (53) and points (130) — the Jets knocked off the Flames, but defenseman Jamie Macoun broke Hawerchuk’s ribs with a cross-check in Game 3. The Oilers swept the Jets in the next round.
Long before they became close friends, traveling across Canada to play in legends games and charity golf events, Brad Park was rooting for Hawerchuk to lift Winnipeg.
“He was so important to that city,” said Park, 72. “He made them a legitimate team. He should have been a one-jersey guy.”
Like Park, who was a perennial also-ran in Norris Trophy balloting dominated by Denis Potvin and Bobby Orr, Hawerchuk’s only major trophy during his playing days was the Calder.
“There were very few rookies that I respected, but he was one, right from the day he came in,” Park said. “So gifted, so smart, so good with the puck. He’ll be missed. He had a terrific family. His two boys [Ben and Eric], his daughter [Alexis], his wife [Crystal] are terrific people. He was a class act.”
Long before streaming video, the Jets were hardly Canada’s most desirable team. Former Jets netminder Bob Essensa recalled that one year, 50 NHL games were not shown on TV — and 30 of them involved Winnipeg.
Those in the East may have known Hawerchuk only from box scores, hockey cards, or VHS highlight tapes until he was traded to Buffalo in 1990. He had 13 points in 11 playoff games against the Bruins, including 6 in a four-game sweep in 1993.
In his 2001 Hall of Fame speech, Hawerchuk’s humility shined through, even in a sport traditionally averse to me-guys.
Essensa, who broke in with the Jets in 1988, remembers going to dinner at Hawerchuk’s house. The jerseys from his thrilling Canada Cup win in ’87, plus a host of All-Star Game sweaters, were quietly hanging in a closet.
“He was a great person,” said Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour, whose Flyers added Hawerchuk in 1996 for two final playoff runs. “I was a centerman, he was a centerman. He was a Hall of Fame centerman. We got on a line and he said, ‘I’ll play left wing.’ It’s a little thing, but that’s the kind of guy he was. I’m always thinking of him.”
Washington has talent locked up
Would be surprised to see Washington retain coach Todd Rierden after two consecutive first-round losses. It may be the only major change ahead.
The Capitals, dismissed by the Islanders in five games, have the bulk of the roster that won in 2018 locked up long-term. John Carlson is there through 2026. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie through ’25. In all, 11 players have at least three seasons remaining on their deals, and that’s not including Alex Ovechkin, who won’t get to market until ’21.
They’ll move on from Braden Holtby, a UFA with a $6.1 million cap hit. He was not necessarily the problem in the Islanders series, but his .895 save percentage will make Washington feel OK about moving on to Ilya Samsonov (DNP/injury this postseason). Missing Backstrom (concussion) for three games hurt, and Carlson played through whatever ailment kept him out of the round-robin.
Potvin sees magic in Bruins twosome
Denis Potvin, one of the stalwarts of the Islanders’ four-Cup run in the early ’80s, considers Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand one of the game’s all-time great duos.
“I think most coaches agree, if you can keep two guys together — [Bryan] Trottier-[Mike] Bossy, [Wayne] Gretzky-[Jari] Kurri, that kind of a combination — you can always move somebody up on the wing,” mused Potvin, 66, enjoying the outdoors in his South Florida retirement. “I think the Bergeron-Marchand combination is right there with those guys.”
He respects the work of David Pastrnak, who has burst onto the scene in recent years. But seeing the chemistry of the longtime Boston pair reminds him of the rotating cast of wingers on the Islanders’ old top line.
“Clark Gillies, John Tonelli, even Bob Bourne at times,” Potvin said. “[Coach] Al [Arbour] would move one guy up, but keep those guys together. It’s a rarity. They’re such skillful players.
“I remember being on the ice with Bossy and Trottier, and literally not even seeing them, just throwing a puck to an area, and they were there. It was so automatic. Especially with our power play, which was so great in those years.
“That’s what I see with those guys. Bergeron-Marchand, Gretzky-Kurri, Trottier-Bossy.
“Very rare that I’ve seen a combination like Bergeron and Marchand. It’s very, very rare. You can just see when they turn on the experience. It’s amazing.”
Hayward assesses Kase and Ritchie
Brian Hayward, on the mike since Anaheim’s inaugural season (1993-94), is a big believer in the two former Ducks who flew east.
On speedy young Bruin Ondrej Kase, whose career in Anaheim was marred by a concussion, foot and ankle injuries:
“I loved him,” Hayward said. “Everyone in Anaheim called him the Energizer Bunny. He was on the puck all the time. Pretty good hands. He makes plays. I’m a big fan. I think he’s definitely a top-six forward. The only question is, can he stay healthy?”
Hayward likened the Bruins’ other deadline acquisition, Nick Ritchie, to another physical forward, Calgary’s Sam Bennett. Ritchie was taken 10th overall in the 2014 draft, six slots below Bennett. After a trying season, Bennett broke out with a 5-3—8 line in 10 postseason games, with a league-high 54 hits through Friday. Ritchie played in only two games in the Carolina series, but Bruce Cassidy may use him in the second round against a heavier club.
“Former goalie, so in practice I’d watch him shoot the puck,” Hayward said. “He’s got a cannon of a wrist-snap shot. A cannon, and you never see it in the game.
“Sometimes I think he’s caught in that spot where he thinks he has to be dominant physically when he’s on the ice. I wish he would just play. I think there are a lot more goals in Nick Ritchie than those 10-foot rebound goals.”
Word in Anaheim is the Ducks will hold on to ex-Bruin David Backes as the team gets even younger next year. Backes, 36, costs Anaheim $4.5 million against the cap. Danton Heinen, on the books for $2.8 million, will be an RFA after 2020-21 … Still think the Islanders’ Mathew Barzal will cash the biggest checks of any summer 2020 RFA, but the Blue Jackets’ Pierre-Luc Dubois could give him a run for his money. Dubois looked like a No. 1 stud center this postseason … Surprising to see the Canadiens’ Jesperi Kotkaniemi, tagged for a boarding misconduct, fifth in the playoffs in hits (36) entering the weekend. Kotkaniemi is no Tom Wilson, but the 20-year-old Finn (6-2, 200) is no longer a skinny No. 3 overall draft pick … Columbus coach John Tortorella, cranky to the end, walked out of his season-ending press conference after two questions. “I’m not going to get into the touchy-feely stuff, the moral victories, all that,” he said. “You guys be safe.” … If 43-year-old Zdeno Chara lifts the Stanley Cup, he will be the oldest captain to do so. Current title-holder there is Dave Andreychuk, who was 40 when the Lightning won in 2004. The only Cup-winning players older than Chara: Chris Chelios, who was 46 when his Red Wings won in 2008, and Lester Patrick, who was 44 and the Rangers’ head coach when he filled in for injured goaltender Lorne Chabot in Game 2 of the 1928 Final … Charlie McAvoy, born in 1997, heard his share of “Potvin sucks” chants growing up a diehard Rangers fan on Long Island. It has been 41 years since Denis Potvin crushed Ulf Nilsson with a clean check, and he remains amused that the chant endures: “Many of the people yelling that don’t know who I am.” … After leaving Winnipeg, Hayward was Patrick Roy’s backup in Montreal. He remembered their ’88 playoff loss to the Bruins as “devastating.” The Habs’ game plan at the time was two-pronged: “Try to prevent [Cam] Neely from getting to the front of the net, and make Ray Bourque pass the puck,” he said. “It worked most of the time.” … Never seen this before: In Game 5 against Montreal, Philadelphia coach Alain Vigneaut yanked 22-year-old keeper Carter Hart, but sent him back out when Hart’s fourth GA on 20 shots was washed out on an offside review. “It’s a good thing he’s a little too oblivious to some things,” teammate Jakub Voracek later quipped. “Like being a goalie in Philadelphia.”