For those not familiar with Tony Esposito, here are the basics: star netminder for Chicago from 1969 to 1984. Three-time Vezina winner. No-doubt Hall of Famer (1988). Still holds the record for shutouts in a season: 15, in a 63-start rookie season of 1969-70.
Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Keith Magnuson, and other villains of the Big Bad Bruins era knew Esposito, who died Tuesday at 78 from pancreatic cancer, as a teammate. Phil Esposito loved his brother, stuck up for his brother, and loved shooting for the insides of his brother’s posts. Every goal, Tony insisted, was a lucky one.
Derek Sanderson said he might have been right. Even Phil, one of the game’s all-time great scorers, had a tough time with his brother.
“[Tony] gave you things and then he’d take them away,” Sanderson said. “He had great hands. The first great right-catching goalie.”
And a heck of a battler on the ice.
“He was very competitive,” Sanderson said, amid all the memories he shared over the phone this past week. “We had a problem going into Chicago because of him. He was a force to be reckoned with.”
They used to shoot high on Esposito early in games, Sanderson recalled, to try and rattle him. It made Phil livid, though he understood the strategy. He didn’t like seeing his brother and Sanderson square off at center ice, after Sanderson ran the Chicago netminder.
“He wound up and threw a stick at me,” recalled Sanderson, describing Tony Esposito’s hands at the end of a heavy piece of lumber. Sanderson had knocked over Tony O. with an elbow-and-hip combo following Esposito’s charge through the circles for a loose puck. Esposito got up, pitched his Northland at Turk, and earned a few haymakers for his trouble.
“I used to cuff him, hit him in the back of the leg, skate through his crease,” Sanderson said a half-century later, with vivid recall. “I used to bug him and [Ken] Dryden. Goaltenders, if you let them go — like Glenn Hall and [Jacques] Plante, [Johnny] Bower — those guys were so [expletive] focused. Tony could beat you by himself. You outshoot him, 40-18, and you’d lose, 2-0.”
This was the era in which Bobby Orr fought Magnuson, as the Black Hawks (the spelling was changed to one word before the 1986-87 season) and Bruins were the “Real Final” of 1970, the last Original Six-on-Original Six matchup of that year’s playoffs. It was rare to see a college goalie (Tony O. played at Michigan Tech), the North American game then largely dominated by Canada’s junior system.
That Stanley Cup semifinal was brother vs. brother, two stars on their way to becoming superstars. Tony was a year younger than Phil, but they arrived on similar timelines. Watching with split allegiances was Joe Bertagna, the future Harvard goalie, Bruins goalie coach, and ECAC and Hockey East commissioner. He was converting from forward as a sophomore at Arlington High and had an instant favorite as he studied the position. In the mask-optional years, to drop into a butterfly meant putting one’s face in the middle of the net.
“You talk about courage … “ said Bertagna, on the phone and looking at a signed Tony O. red No. 35 jersey in his Gloucester office.
Tony won 423 games, third all time when he retired and 10th today. He was known for trickery in the net, such as making snow piles at the side of his net in the one-referee days, and sewing mesh inserts into his goalie pants to block pucks. The league quickly registered its displeasure with his innovative streak. But not nearly enough to keep him out of the Hall of Fame, an honor he received four years after retiring.
After taking different paths to the NHL, Phil and Tony met for the first time on Dec. 5, 1968. Bruins vs. Canadiens, before Tony was claimed on waivers by Chicago. Tony flew from Houston, Montreal’s farm club at the time, to Boston Garden.
“I think I was more nervous than Tony that night,” Phil said in “The Brothers Esposito,” a book with Tim Moriarty that the Globe excerpted in 1971. “In fact, it was probably the most frightful game of my entire hockey career.” A six-year NHLer, he was “getting ready to shoot pucks at my own brother, who had been in the league only one week.”
Tony was fuming after hearing his older brother publicly agonizing about potentially sending him back to the minors. Phil scored twice. It was a 2-2 tie.
“We talked for maybe five minutes before I rushed for the team bus,” Tony wrote. “ ’You were lucky on the first goal and lucky on the second goal,’ I said.
“Phil just laughed. He said, ‘What the hell, Tony. I’m just a lucky guy.’ ”
NO LOVE LOST
Chelios never a fan of Bettman
The day is fast approaching when a whole bunch of new names — Chris Chelios and Mark Messier (ESPN) and Wayne Gretzky (Turner) among them — will appear on our screens to break down games and discuss the league. Network executives will tell you that their hires, particularly Hall of Famers, will bring the heat.
Know what would be good TV?
Chelios and Gary Bettman having a discussion about what’s good for the game. Wonder how much they’d agree.
If they get to talking labor issues, it might get tense. In 1994, as Lockout 1 was under way and those beneath the executive level were losing paychecks, Chelios wondered aloud about Bettman’s safety … and didn’t seem too concerned about it.
“If I was Gary Bettman, I’d worry about my family, about my well-being,” Chelios said. “He’s going to affect a lot of people. Some crazed fan or even a player — who knows? — they might take it into their own hands and figure they get him out of the way, things might get settled. You hate to see something like that happen, but he took the job.”
Fun stuff. At the time, Bettman might have had an easier time shrugging that off than Chelios’s next quip:
“The main thing is he doesn’t know anything about hockey,” Chelios said of the commissioner, then one year on the job and fresh from the NBA front office. “That’s obvious. He doesn’t recognize players like Jeremy Roenick and Brendan Shanahan at the meetings. Whether it’s this little man syndrome thing or whatever ...”
The more diplomatic Gretzky also bashed Bettman that week, saying how “disappointed” he was that a newcomer had tried to change the financial picture.
“I’ve worked too damn hard in this sport to help push our sport and make it be a piece of a puzzle, where it is today,” he said, “and I hope it doesn’t all come crumbling down because one person wants to change the whole format.”
Let’s set the talk of Bettman’s legacy aside for now, and say this: He was a primary force behind the multibillion-dollar TV deals that have player salaries at record numbers, and have a bunch of ex-players drawing TV paychecks. Chelios, who remarked in his 2013 Hall of Fame speech that labor disputes were his most significant career regret, also didn’t mention Bettman over the course of 10 minutes. When speaking with reporters on a call beforehand, he winced upon reference.
“Let’s not mention that name on this call,” he said. “This is a good day.”
Kaprizov trying to force Wild’s hand
Kirill Kaprizov, who finally arrived stateside last season and electrified the Twin Cities to a degree not seen since Marian Gaborik, is flexing his muscles. The Daily Faceoff reported the Calder Trophy winner agreed to a deal with CSKA Moscow of the KHL that will pay him at least $10 million if he can’t come to terms with the Wild by Sept. 1.
Kaprizov wants a three-year deal that brings him to unrestricted free agency; the Wild want to lock him up for longer at a lower cap hit. The Athletic reported general manager Bill Guerin and Co. are offering a 7-8-year ticket in the $9 million range annually, which would make Kaprizov the richest player in franchise history. Guerin, of Wilbraham, has reportedly offered 5-6-year deals as a compromise.
Kaprizov’s camp, per the Daily Faceoff, says Minnesota has not made an offer since April, which sounds like what Torey Krug’s side was saying about Boston before he left for St. Louis. It would be an ugly turn for the Wild to lose Kaprizov after 55 games (27-24—51). He doesn’t have arbitration rights and can’t be offer-sheeted.
Flyers reward Hart despite struggles
As Jeremy Swayman charts his own course to a starting job in Boston (first splitting the net with ex-Buffalo goaltender Linus Ullmark), the Flyers are trying to fix their goalie. Carter Hart, three months older than Swayman, turned 23 on Friday. He celebrated with a three-year, $11.9 million bridge deal after a disastrous third season.
After submitting a 24-13-3 record, 2.42 goals-against average, and .914 save percentage for the playoff-bound Flyers in 2019-20, Hart bottomed out last season: 9-11-5, 3.67, and .877. When it went badly, it went badly: He allowed four or more goals 13 times in 25 starts. He also missed the last 12 games with a sprained left knee. So, onward and upward.
GM Chuck Fletcher didn’t blame Hart for the team’s struggles. He beefed up the defensive unit in front of him, bringing in small, puck-moving Ryan Ellis (Nashville) and large, angry Rasmus Ristolainen (Buffalo). Fletcher also brought in San Jose reclamation project Martin Jones to compete with his young stopper.
Joe Thornton, Florida man, will chase the Cup in Sunrise. The 42-year-old snowbird hooked on with the Panthers on a one-year, league-minimum $750,000 deal, solidifying the team’s forward depth and bringing his trademark sunshine and good vibes. He skated the left wing in Toronto last season, putting up 5-15—20 in 44 games. Advice for Jumbo: Hack off the beard before training camp. Nothing like late-summer South Florida heat. Like being wrapped in a steamed wool blanket every time you step outside … Florida adding second-line center Sam Reinhart (25-15—40 in 54 games in Buffalo last season) for three years at a $6.5 million cap hit is a solid move. The big question: What will be the next contract for all-world captain Aleksander Barkov, who enters his walk year making less ($5.9 million) than 117 other players, according to CapFriendly.com … Good to see Adam McQuaid, done in by injuries at the end of his rough-and-tumble career, rejoin the Bruins as a player development coordinator … Chris Kelly filling the vacancy on Bruce Cassidy’s staff ensures there won’t be a brain drain after Jay Pandolfo’s departure. One sharp defensive forward mind out, another one in … Fun fact about AHL Providence coach Ryan Mougenel, who supplanted Jay Leach (Seattle): He once saved a man from drowning in Boston Harbor. In 2012, Mougenel, coaching ECHL Las Vegas at the time, and a couple of others dived in near Columbus Park to bring an unconscious swimmer to safety … TD Garden is getting a video board upgrade. Time flies. The old one, raised in 2007, is now analog by today’s standards. A new sound system, also said to be in the works, is a much-needed addition. From the ninth floor, some of the high-end noise could be ear-splitting. Now, about that slushy, spongy ice sheet … The Rangers signed RFA netminder Igor Shesterkin to a four-year, $22.67 million contract coming off his rookie season. Seemingly a risk to park $5.67 million of cap space there after 47 NHL games, but Shesterkin’s dominance in the KHL and AHL makes it look like a reasonable bet for new GM Chris Drury. Worth noting that he is paying a bit above market value. In recent years, three other 25-year-old goalies with similar résumés earned less in term and AAV. The Blues gave Jordan Binnington (33 games) two years at $4.4 million per in 2019, the Blue Jackets handed Elvis Merzlikins (33 games) two years at $4 million per in 2020, and the Red Wings extended Alex Nedeljkovic (29 games) two years at $3 million per last month. Shesterkin is also making more than Vancouver’s would-be franchise guy, Thatcher Demko, who was also 25 (and 62 games into his NHL tenure) this past March when he signed for five years at $5 million a year. Shesterkin is taking up the same slice of the Rangers’ salary-cap pie (7 percent) as Frederik Andersen, when the Maple Leafs signed him at age 26 to a five-year, $25 million deal in 2016 … Former Penguins Cup-winning coach Dan Bylsma, released from his post under Detroit’s Jeff Blashill, will coach Seattle’s temporary AHL affiliate in Charlotte. After a year sharing the Checkers with the Florida Panthers, the Kraken will shift operations to Palm Desert, Calif., for the 2022-23 season. Seattle is building a 10,000-seat arena in the Coachella Valley for its still-unnamed AHL club … Toronto’s AHL club, the Marlies, is looking for a new goalie coach. Dusty Imoo, 51, was hired this past week, based partly on the strength of his work with Maple Leafs backup Jack Campbell during their time in Los Angeles’s system. But Imoo was dropped a few days after he was hired because the team “made a mistake by not thoroughly following our organizational protocols,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement. On his now-deactivated Twitter account, Imoo appeared to support anti-Black and transphobic accounts and statements, right-wing conspiracies, anti-vaccination sentiments, and the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill. That didn’t fly with the Leafs, one of the league’s more outspoken clubs on social issues … Wait, Darnell Nurse at how much? Edmonton’s roster decisions continue to surprise … New Bruins Erik Haula and Derek Forbort (and Providence prospect Jack Ahcan) are skating in a summer four-on-four league in Edina, Minn., called Da Beauty League. Haula has six goals and 9 points in three games, placing him among da league leaders … Derek Sanderson, 75, said plans are in the works for a Farrelly Brothers movie on his life, largely based on his 2012 book, “Crossing the Line.” “Mostly off-ice stuff,” Sanderson said of the film. “Going into the stands [at Madison Square Garden], Johnny Carson, all that [freakin’ stuff] … The upcoming Amazon documentary about the 2020-21 Maple Leafs, “All or Nothing,” should be good for a laugh, if nothing else. Beleaguered-sounding fan and “Arrested Development” actor Will Arnett, narrating the trailer: “Fifty-four years since the Leafs’ last championship. And yeah. We lost again. But what happened behind closed doors is a story you’ll want to see.” Wonder how next year’s docuseries will end … Cassidy, this past week named an assistant for Team Canada for the 2022 Beijing Olympics, is also a first base coach for his 10-year-old son Cole’s baseball team. As of Wednesday, Cassidy said he was 36 for 36 in sending runners this season … Chris Snow celebrated his 40th birthday on Wednesday with his family at their vacation spot in New Durham, N.H. A day later, the Flames assistant GM was throwing out the first pitch at Fenway Park along with son Cohen, 10, and daughter Willa, 6. It was his first time back since his mid-20s, when the Melrose native was the Globe’s Red Sox beat writer. When Snow was diagnosed with an aggressive form of ALS in June 2019, his doctors weren’t convinced he would see 39, much less 40. Donating to research is a decision with impact.