The Islanders made one huge step toward where they are today -- riding a five-game winning streak and tied for first in the Metropolitan Division -- the day they acquired two solid veteran defensemen.
You can't spell "division contender" without "D." So says the greatest defenseman in Islanders history and one of the best the National Hockey League ever has seen.
Denis Potvin is impressed by what his former team has accomplished, and his first words when he expressed that opinion were all about the No. 1 defense pair.
"My goodness. Everybody knows that Garth Snow made a heck of a deal when he got both Leddy and Boychuk," said the Hockey Hall of Famer, who will be honored at Nassau Coliseum Saturday night after the Islanders return from the second half of their home-and-home series with the Capitals Friday night.
Actually, it was a pair of trades on Oct. 4 that brought Nick Leddy from the Blackhawks and Johnny Boychuk from the Bruins. But the deals occurred so close together that it seems as if the two players -- who have been defense partners since the start of the season -- arrived in one major package.
Not that the pair will ever have the impact that Potvin did. The Islanders had the opportunity to draft him first overall in 1973 because their expansion season left them with what then was the worst record in NHL history. By the end of his second year, they had reached Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals.
"The era is a little different now," said Potvin, who closely follows the NHL as a TV analyst for the Florida Panthers and a regular commentator on SiriusXM NHL Network channel. "Some teams do draft good young defensemen, like Seth Jones of Nashville. But [Snow] was able to get two solid defensemen without having to go through that five or six years of development time."
Potvin acknowledged that Snow made other good moves, such as bringing in goalie Jaroslav Halak and some veteran forwards. "He filled a lot of needs in one fell swoop," he said. But the former captain has a particular insight into what defensemen bring.
"Every team has to have that dimension if they want to be competitive. You've got to have someone to get the puck to your forwards. [John] Tavares and [Brock] Nelson and the others are going to continue to flourish," said the man who is next up in an honor roll of former stars saying a formal farewell to the Coliseum.
"For the rest of my life, I will never be able to drive by Mitchel Field and that whole area without thinking of being part of what we did there," Potvin said.
It already has been a nostalgic week for Potvin. With the Panthers facing the Minnesota Wild and star forward Zach Parise on Monday, he spoke for an hour on the phone with Parise's dad, J.P., the former Islander who is battling cancer. "He was in good spirits," his former teammate said.
Of the current Islanders, Potvin said, "It's been a long time coming. I'm very, very pleased about it."
And these Islanders are pleased to hear that. "He's a legend," Boychuk said after his team's 3-2 overtime win over the Capitals on Wednesday night. "Coming from his mouth, I'll take that compliment any day."