Esposito, Orr top all-time 3-on-3 team of 1970s

Monday, 01.25.2016 / 3:00 AM
John Kreiser  - Managing Editor

Offense came to the fore in the NHL during the 1970s.

In a decade that saw the League add two teams each in 1970, 1972 and 1974, scoring took center stage. Average goals per game went from slightly less than six at the start of the decade to seven by 1979. Seasons in which top players reached 50 goals and/or 100 points no longer were uncommon.

It was a decade that saw Phil Esposito of the Boston Bruins shatter the single-season marks for goals and points by scoring 76 times and finishing with 152 points in 1970-71. Four years later Esposito's teammate, Bobby Orr, led the NHL in scoring for the second time with 135 points.

Orr perhaps is the most revolutionary player ever in the NHL. Before his arrival defensemen weren't expected to be major offensive contributors. But by the 1970s every team felt it had to have at least one puck-rushing defenseman in order to keep up with the way the game was being played.

"What Bobby did was make coaches think we don't have to stick a guy who can't skate back there and instead say, 'Let's put a guy who can skate and get him on the ice more,'" Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch told in 2013.

With so much offense on display, a 3-on-3 All-Star format at some point during the 1970s would have been a sight to see. Here is's attempt at establishing an All-Time 3-on-3 Team of the 1970s.

Line 1: Phil Esposito, Marcel Dionne, Bobby Orr

No one in the 1970s had more goals (509) or points (1,087) than Esposito, whose snap shot from the slot would be lethal in a game with so much open space. He also was good in the faceoff circle, a key consideration in a format when puck possession is key. Esposito also was an underrated playmaker, so having a finisher to skate with him is key. Dionne, a Canada Cup teammate of Esposito in 1976, would supply the kind of speed that is vital in 3-on-3 play, and would offer a combination of playmaking and finishing ability.

Esposito and Orr were a lethal combination during their time together with the Bruins. The thought of Orr, the fastest defenseman of the decade (if not all-time) having the kind of space that would be available in a 3-on-3 game is mind-boggling. Orr, the only defenseman ever to win a scoring title and the decade's top scorer among defensemen with 192 goals, 659 points in 407 games, only 36 of them after the 1974-75 season, was hard enough to control at 5-on-5. With four players removed it's hard to imagine he wouldn't be able to take over a game.

Line 2: Bobby Clarke, Guy Lafleur, Denis Potvin

Clarke arguably was the best player in the League in the mid-1970s. He had a rare combination of skill, grit and leadership and led the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975. He won the Hart Trophy three times in a span of four seasons, and had back-to-back 89-assist seasons in 1974-75 and 1975-76. Those passing skills would fit perfectly with Lafleur, the best player in the NHL during the latter years of the decade. Lafleur had six consecutive seasons in which he had 50 or more goals and 100 or more points, and he was second in the 1970s with 405 goals and 941 points. His speed and finishing ability would make him a good fit with Clarke, who was more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer.

That duo would be an excellent fit with Potvin, the first cornerstone of the New York Islanders' 1980s dynasty to arrive on Long Island after being taken with the first pick of the 1973 NHL Draft. Potvin did his best offensive work in the 1970s, with 163 goals and 544 points in 498 games. In 3-on-3 play Potvin would be a dual threat; he had the speed to carry the puck and was among the best at making the first pass out of the zone, a skill that would trigger a lot of breakaways.

Line 3: Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin, Brad Park

Perreault and Martin formed two-thirds of the Buffalo Sabres' famed French Connection line. In a 3-on-3 game Perreault, one of the best skaters of his era, would have more room to find Martin, who had 375 of his 384 NHL goals during the 1970s. Martin was fourth in goal-scoring during the decade, one spot ahead of Perreault, who also was fifth in points with 869 in 753 games. With the wide-open ice Perreault would have plenty of room to make plays and Martin would have extra space to get open for passes from his longtime linemate.

It was Park's misfortune to arrive with the New York Rangers just after Orr joined the Bruins, forcing him to take a back seat to No. 4. The two briefly were teammates with Boston, which acquired him in November 1975, and he continued to flourish after Orr's departure in 1976. Park finished the decade with 143 goals and 574 points, second to Orr among defensemen. Park would fit well with the two Sabres, who are similar to the pairing of Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert that he played with in New York.

Goalies: Ken Dryden, Tony Esposito

It’s easy to forget just how brilliant Dryden was during his eight seasons with the Montreal Canadiens. He came up from the minors in March 1971, won all six of his regular-season starts and then backstopped the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup. Dryden never lost more than 10 games in the regular season and finished with a 258-57-74 record, a decade-best 2.24 goals-against average and 46 shutouts. He won the Stanley Cup six times before retiring in 1979 after the Canadiens' fourth consecutive championship.

One reason Dryden got the chance to star in Montreal was that the Canadiens had lost Tony Esposito to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Intra-League draft in June 1969. Phil's younger brother had his breakout season in 1969-70, his first with the Blackhawks, going 38-17-8 with a 2.17 goals-against average and 15 shutouts. He won 30 or more games for seven straight seasons in an era when games that were tied after 60 minutes ended that way. He was the only goaltender in the 1970s with more than 300 victories.

Follow John Kreiser on Twitter: @jkreiser7713

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