TOP 100 OILERS: TOM POTI (84)

Tom Poti

As a whipping boy and lightning rod for over-the-top criticism and misplaced frustration by fans for whom crash and bang is the measure of a player’s worth, Tom Poti got kicked around by the faithful of the Edmonton Oilers long before anybody had even heard of Tom Gilbert, Jeff Petry or Justin Schultz.

Poti was so maligned for using brains instead of brawn, Oiler GM Glen Sather was once quoted by columnist Terry Jones as saying: “We’ve got to trade this guy before everybody in the league finds out that he’s chicken shit.” The same Sather acquired Poti and Rem Murray for Mike York in 2002 as GM of the New York Rangers. When that trade was made, Jones added an exclamation mark by calling Poti “a wuss.”

Tom Poti #5

Defenseman

NUMBER: 3 BIRTHDATE: March 22, 1977
HEIGHT: 6′ 3″ BIRTHPLACE: Worcester, MA, United States
WEIGHT: 190 DRAFTED: EDM / 1996 NHL Entry Draft
SHOOTS: Left ROUND: 3rd   (59th overall)

BY THE NUMBERS

CAREER REGULAR SEASON STATISTICS

SEASON TEAM GP G A P +/-  PIM  PPG  SHG  GWG  S S%
1998-99 OILERS 73 5 16 21 10 42 2 0 3 94 5.3
1999-00 OILERS 76 9 26 35 8 65 2 1 1 125 7.2
2000-01 OILERS 81 12 20 32 -4 60 6 0 3 161 7.4
2001-02 OILERS 55 1 16 17 -6 42 1 0 0 100 1.0
2001-02 RANGERS 11 1 7 8 -4 2 1 0 1 9 11.1
2001-02 UNITED STATES-OLYMPICS 6 0 1 1 4
2002-03 RANGERS 80 11 37 48 -6 58 3 0 2 148 7.4
2003-04 RANGERS 67 10 14 24 -1 47 4 0 5 124 8.1
2005-06 RANGERS 73 3 20 23 16 70 2 0 2 122 2.5
2006-07 ISLANDERS 78 6 38 44 -1 74 6 0 1 134 4.5
2007-08 CAPITALS 71 2 27 29 9 46 0 0 0 99 2.0
2008-09 CAPITALS 52 3 10 13 3 28 0 0 1 48 6.2
2009-10 CAPITALS 70 4 20 24 26 42 2 0 0 69 5.8
2010-11 CAPITALS 21 2 5 7 -4 8 0 0 0 20 10.0
2012-13 CAPITALS 16 0 2 2 -2 2 0 0 0 8 0.0
2012-13 HERSHEY BEARS-AHL 2 1 0 1 -1 0 1 0 0 5 20.0
NHL TOTALS 824  69  258  327  44 586 29 1 19 1,261  5.5

CAREER PLAYOFF STATISTICS

SEASON TEAM GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG S S%
1998-99 OILERS 4 0 1 1 -3 2 0 0 0 9 0.0
1999-00 OILERS 5 0 1 1 -3 0 0 0 0 7 0.0
2000-01 OILERS 6 0 2 2 2 2 0 0 0 7 0.0
2005-06 RANGERS 4 0 0 0 -4 2 0 0 0 7 0.0
2006-07 ISLANDERS 5 0 3 3 0 6 0 0 0 4 0.0
2007-08 CAPITALS 7 0 1 1 -1 8 0 0 0 9 0.0
2008-09 CAPITALS 14 2 5 7 8 4 1 0 0 13 15.4
2009-10 CAPITALS 6 0 4 4 9 5 0 0 0 6 0.0
NHL TOTALS 51 2 17 19 8 29 1 0 0 62 3.2

NOTABLE

At six-foot-three and 200 pounds, it’s more than fair when looking at Poti’s 824-game career to point out that he didn’t use his size to his advantage in terms of imposing his physical will on opposing forwards. Poti didn’t throw devastating open ice hits. He wasn’t a banger in the corners or a punisher in front of the net. He didn’t fight – he had three scraps in 14 seasons.

Poti preferred playing the angles, positioning and frustrating opposing forwards by poke-checking the puck away with a stick that seemed about eight feet long and then turning the play back the other way in transition, skating or passing it out of trouble. Poti wasn’t a glass-rattling crowd-pleaser. He was more efficient than enthusiastic.

Poti, no question, didn’t play the robust game I prefer, but those making the leap from that to suggesting he was a chicken shit or a wuss always rubbed me wrong. Knowing Poti as I did while covering and travelling with the Oilers during his time in Edmonton, I thought they had their heads up their asses. Poti was one of the most courageous people I knew. He had to be to overcome a sickly childhood and potentially lethal food allergies – to peanuts, chocolate and MSG – to get to and stay in the NHL. The way he chose to play had nothing to do with lack of courage.

THE STORY

Outside his rookie season with the Oilers, 1998-99, Poti was a top-four blueliner in Edmonton. He averaged 22:39 per game in 285 games over parts of four seasons here. His 35 points in 1999-2000 were second on the blue line to Roman Hamrlik. His 32 points in 2000-01 left him second to Janne Niinimaa. He worked the power play. He killed penalties.

Of course, Poti had his warts. He coughed up the puck too much, a problem amplified because he seldom banged a body to get it back like Bo Mironov, Niinimaa or Hamrlik would – there goes Poti again, fishing with that big silver stick. He never punched anybody in the mouth the way Jason Smith did. When things went bad, he’d get rattled and mistakes would mount.

All that said, despite the braying of his critics, there were far more good games than bad with the Oilers for Poti, who was still just 24 when he left Edmonton for the Rangers. Poti’s best season in terms of offensive numbers came in 2002-03 in New York, when he had 48 points. 

This series will look at the top 100 Edmonton Oilers from the NHL era 1979-80 to 2014-15, starting with 100 and working up. 

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

PREVIOUSLY:

  • Jay (not J)

    Hey, you and Willis talk, right? Was that a coordinated Poti Tuesday? Very interesting character and player to bring up in the current climate. I’m guessing that Rem Murray (makes mine!) and Mike York won’t make this list but I still like the trade.

      • Jay (not J)

        No I didn’t, and I’ve been corrected. It’s funny, when this list started I figured that 75% of the players that eventually got named to it would have been giants from the 80s with a few of the ’06ers thrown in for balance. But I guess that even Wayne Gretzky can only take up 1 spot and the Oilers have had a lot of players hit the ice at Northlands/ Skyreach/ Rexall over the years.

        • ubermiguel

          Exactly. I’ve mentioned it before but to make the Top 100 all an Oiler had to do was: (1) play most of a season (2) be above average.

          I’m waiting for that Mike York article. I recall him being a huge bust at the time.

          • Jay (not J)

            What, really? I remember York as being a great player, a good pickup from NY.
            Not the biggest guy but loads of skill and he always made something happen in the offensive zone. And a pretty good 2-way player.

            But my memory has failed me before, so who knows…

  • ubermiguel

    Nice piece on a player I thought at the time was unfairly run out of town by fans (and GMs and sports-writers). Some people like only one type of defenceman but not everyone has to play like Craig Muni to be effective. 824 NHL games proved the haters wrong.

    I also remember hearing from Sather at the time comparisons to Orr and thinking “that’s a bit hyperbolic”. There’s no way to live up to that; that was an early lesson in unreasonable expectations for me.

  • ubermiguel

    Sorry Robin I agree with most of your picks but this one. This guy refused to stick up for his teammates, refused to battle in a corner,refused to be tough on opponents who were screening or abusing our goalie. He was a special teams player, which he did fairly well. But man I wouldn’t want him on the ice with me cause you knew he never had your back. It’s embarrassing that you put him on this list.

  • ubermiguel

    Poti’s head was wayyyyy too big . His giant melon head unfortunately did not mean big brains and thus he made terrible errors and generally was piss poor at defence. I think your crazy to list him so high

    • ubermiguel

      “Cheers” for the big head comment. He really does have a freakishly large head. “Trash It!” for the review of his play. He wasn’t perfect, but like I said earlier, 824 regular season NHL games is not indicative of a piss-poor defenceman. He was inconsistent certainly, but I remember some nights he was the best defenceman on the team.

  • Anton CP

    I always thought that Poti was not being treated fairly. He may not fit into the traditional big dman type by using his size but then when you considered that he played over 800 games and still relatively productive near the end of his career that just maybe not be stupid to put himself in harmful way. Poti may get a different opinion if he is playing in current NHL.

  • TKB2677

    When you look at the list of guys that Brownlee is listing, my god did the Oilers have some bad players over the years. When Schultz makes the Oilers top 100 given how huge the holes in his game are, they just solidifies my statement.

  • TKB2677

    Players like Poti remind me of how certain members of the hockey MSM in Edmonton can behave like a lynch mob when they decide they do not like a player. It is no more mature than grade school kids deciding they want to make one of their peers the “outsider” of the group.

    It sucks, it really does, and i would not be surprised if Edmonton has a reputation amongst the players as a place where the media can be like vultures.