Carol Vadnais, a six-time NHL All-Star who played for Stanley Cup championship teams with the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins and who became a mainstay of the New York Rangers’ defense in the 1970s and early ‘80s, died Sunday in Laval, Quebec. He was 68.
The cause was cancer, Vadnais’ former Canadiens teammate Serge Savard, who visited him at a hospice last week, told the newspaper Le Journal de Montréal.
Having played 17 seasons in the NHL when he retired after the 1982-83 season, Vadnais joined with Savard, who was concluding his career as a Winnipeg Jet, and the Bruins’ Wayne Cashman as the last three remaining NHL players who began their careers when the league had only six teams, the Original Six.
Vadnais played for Montreal’s 1968 championship team, then was drafted by the Oakland Seals (later the California Golden Seals) in June 1968, when the NHL was going into the second season of expansion, becoming a 12-team league.
The Golden Seals traded Vadnais to the Bruins in February 1972, and he joined youthful phenom Bobby Orr on defense and high-scoring center Phil Esposito on the team that defeated the Rangers in the 1972 Stanley Cup finals.
Vadnais became a Ranger in November 1975 as part of a memorable deal that sent him and Esposito, the centerpiece of the trade, to New York for Rangers captain Brad Park, one of the NHL’s top defensemen, along with center Jean Ratelle and a minor leaguer.
A fine stickhandler and an “offensive defenseman,” Vadnais led the Rangers defensive corps in points during his first season in New York, tallying 20 goals and 30 assists while playing in 64 games.
But Vadnais got his share of boos at Madison Square Garden early on with mediocre Rangers teams, having essentially replaced Park, a hugely popular figure. The fans’ attitude seemed to change, however, when the Rangers got off to a fast start in 1978 with Vadnais, at age 33, guiding an otherwise young defensive alignment that included Ron Greschner, Dave Maloney and Mike McEwen.
“When I make mistakes I’m a natural target,” Vadnais told Sports Illustrated in November 1978. “What are the fans going to do, blame a 22-year-old kid? But when we win they forget the mistakes fast. I’ll tell you, it’s nice hearing cheers for a change.”
Vadnais flourished in the 1979 playoffs, scoring two goals and adding nine assists as the Rangers reached the Stanley Cup finals before losing to the Canadiens in five games. When the Rangers started slowly in the 1981-82 season, Greschner showed gratitude for the help Vadnais gave him. “I was really losing confidence,” he told The New York Times. “I asked Vad to watch me, to tell me what I was doing wrong.”
Vadnais was born on Sept. 25, 1945, in Montreal. He made his debut with the Canadiens in 1966-67, but played in only 42 games with them over two seasons, facing stiff competition from seasoned defensemen Jacques Laperriere, Jean-Guy Talbot and J.C. Tremblay along with Savard, his fellow rookie when he arrived in Montreal.
After playing for Montreal, the Oakland-California franchise, Boston and the Rangers, Vadnais was picked up by the Devils for his final NHL season. He had 169 goals and 418 assists in 1,087 games in his NHL career.
Vadnais was an assistant coach with the Rangers and a scout for the Canadiens after his playing days, and he sold commercial real estate.
His survivors include his daughter, Michele, and two grandchildren. His wife, Raymonde, died in 2004.
Looking back on his career in a 2009 interview for the Canadiens’ website, Vadnais told how he cherished his Stanley Cup championship ring from the Canadiens over the ring he later received from the Bruins.
“I’ve had the ring I won with the Canadiens on my pinkie finger for 40 years,” he said. “I never take it off. I won one with Boston also. I don’t wear it. It’s too big.”
Follow us on Twitter: