Phil Esposito - Remained Connected To Hockey
Remained Connected to Hockey
Though Esposito was finished as a player, his career in professional hockey remained. The day after he retired, he became an assistant coach for the Rangers. The following season, he worked as a color commentator for the Madison Square Garden Network.
Esposito continued his association with the Rangers when he was hired as general manager and vice president in 1986. He controlled all players and coaches for the Rangers and the minor league system. The team was not doing well when he took over, but it did better with him the first year. But Esposito was sometimes impatient with the progress. He fired two head coaches and named himself head coach just before the playoffs in 1987 and 1989. Esposito had paid a hefty price in draft picks to acquire Michel Bergeron, the coach he fired in 1989. When Esposito took the helm in 1989, the team never won again. Shortly after playoffs ended in 1989, Esposito himself was fired. He had done forty-three trades in three years.
Soon after his dismissal, in 1990, Esposito began working on getting a new NHL franchise accepted in Florida, the Tampa Bay Lightning. This would bring NHL hockey back to the Sun Belt (it had previously been in Atlanta). He lined up Japanese investors and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner among other American investors, and promised the league that a $90 million hockey arena would be built. The Lightning began playing in the 1992-93 season. When the project started, Esposito had been a partner in franchise, but by the time the team began playing, he was only the president and general manager. Esposito was criticized for some of his actions while the franchise was being developed, but the team survived. Esposito guided the team until he was fired in October 1998 by its new owner, Art Williams.
After his dismissal, Esposito remained in hockey as a commentator for Fox Sports Net for one season and for Tampa Bay Lightning radio for several seasons. He also worked for the Lightning as a promotions employee. He also was owner and director of the Cincinnati Cyclones, a minor league hockey team that he bought with other investors in 2000.
While Esposito's front office accomplishments were important, it was his skills as a player, especially in Boston, that were his legacy. Describing his completeness at the time, Stan and Shirley Fischler in the Hockey Encyclopedia quoted an unnamed scout as saying, "Esposito combines reach, strength, intelligence, and competitiveness to the degree that the only way he can be countered is with superbly coordinated defensive play."