The current ire of Rangers fans – and that organization’s offseason strategy – has been focused on Tom Wilson. But Denis Potvin does not believe the Capitals agitator will replace him as Public Enemy No. 1 to the Madison Square Garden faithful.
The Islanders’ Hall of Famer knows he will forever, um, be not so good to Rangers fans.
There's been that Garden chant -- you know the one -- since Potvin fractured Ulf Nilsson’s ankle with a hard check into the corner boards on Feb. 25, 1979, a hit that players on both teams believe was a clean one.
"I don’t think anybody could have imagined what happened later, down the road, between Rangers fans and myself with the Ulf Nilsson thing," Potvin said. "I don’t think anybody could have predicted that something like that would last 40 years.
"They have replaced me every now and then. But it never lasted. It always comes back. It seems to have been passed from generation to generation."
Nilsson suffered a season-ending injury on Potvin’s hit.
But there’s no doubt Wilson’s actions on May 3 have had lasting repercussions to the Rangers’ organization. Wilson attacked since-traded Pavel Buchnevich, then rag-dolled Artemi Panarin before nearly slamming the playmaker’s helmet-less head on the Garden ice, causing Panarin to miss the rest of the season.
The team issued a statement decrying the "horrifying acts of violence," and president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton both were shockingly fired two days later. Chris Drury, who assumed both roles, came in with a mandate to make the Rangers a tougher team and brought in Wilson’s heavyweight rival, Ryan Reaves, from the Golden Knights.
So, yes, Rangers fans still will be angry at Wilson when the season starts, though the Capitals don’t visit the Garden until Feb. 24.
But Potvin knows there will still be plenty of vitriol directed at him, even if he knows some fans have no clue who he is.
"A friend of mine, it had to be in the mid- to late-90s when I was broadcasting in Florida and he worked at Fox Sports," Potvin said. "He brought his kids up to New York to see the lighting of the Christmas tree and then he said, ‘Well, I’ll take my boys to a Rangers game,’ and it wasn’t even against the Islanders. He’s sitting there and all of a sudden, this whistle starts and four or five seats down the aisle, next to his boys, somebody stands up and just screams, ‘Potvin [expletive],’ and the nerves in his neck were just popping, he was yelling in such anger.
"My friend leaned over and said, ‘Excuse me,’ to this fairly young guy, ‘Who’s Potvin?’ And the kid turned around, ‘Oh, I don’t know, I think he’s dead now.’"