After retiring as a player, Esposito served as head coach and general manager of the New York Rangers before co-founding the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was the principal studio analyst for the NHL on Fox 1995–1998. He now serves as Tampa Bay's radio colour commentator. On January 27, 2017, in a ceremony during the All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, Esposito was part of the second group of players to be named one of the '100 Greatest NHL Players' in history.
Esposito signed with the Chicago Black Hawks as a teenager and was assigned to the Sarnia Legionnaires Jr. 'B' hockey team for the 1960–61 season. In just 32 games with the Legionnaires, he scored 47 goals and 61 assists, for 108 points. It was a scoring pace of 3.3 points per game. In a playoff game, he scored 12 points in one game as the Legionnaires advanced to the Western Ontario final before being eliminated. After a sparkling junior season with the St. Catharines Teepees of the Ontario Hockey Association in 1962, Esposito spent two seasons with Chicago's minor league affiliate, the St. Louis Braves, scoring 90 points in his first season and 80 points in only 46 games in his second.
Midway through the 1964 season, Esposito was called up to the parent Black Hawks to make his NHL debut. Centreing for the great Bobby Hull beginning in the 1965 season, he proved himself a quality playmaker, twice finishing amongst the League-leading scorers over the next three seasons.
In 1967, Esposito was dealt with Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield to the Boston Bruins in a blockbuster trade. While Hodge and Stanfield rose to become stars in Boston, Esposito blossomed into the greatest scorer of his day. In 1969, he became the first NHL player to score 100 points in a season, far eclipsing the "century" mark with a record 126. He would fall a single point shy in 1970, then reached triple digits again the next five years running. Along the way, he captured the Art Ross Trophy as the top regular season scorer in 1969 and 1971 to 1974, and led the League in goals six straight seasons between 1969–70 and 1974–75.
Esposito was named to the NHL's First All-Star team six consecutive times (from 1969 to 1974), and won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player in 1969 and 1974. His Boston fans, celebrating his scoring touch during his heydey, displayed bumper stickers that read, "Jesus saves, Espo scores on the rebound." Esposito, while not a fast or graceful skater, was best known for his unmovable presence in front of the opposition net from which he could score from all angles. Esposito has said, "Scoring is easy. You simply stand in the slot, take your beating and shoot the puck into the net."
During his prime, Esposito centred one of the most renowned forward lines in history, featuring Ken Hodge on his right wing and Wayne Cashman on his left. Esposito and fellow superstar Bobby Orr led the Bruins to Stanley Cup victories in 1970 and 1972, and first-place finishes in the League in 1971, 1972 and 1974.
During 1970–71, Esposito shattered the record for most goals in a season, finishing with 76. The mark stood until 1982, when Wayne Gretzky scored his 77th, 78th and 79th goals against the Buffalo Sabres on February 24, 1982, at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. Esposito was on hand to present the game puck to Gretzky. Esposito also set the single-season point-scoring record in 1971 with 152, a mark later raised by Gretzky to 215. Only three others have reached the 150 point plateau — Mario Lemieux 199, Steve Yzerman 155 and Bernie Nicholls 150 — and only Gretzky, Lemieux, Brett Hull, Teemu Selänne and Alexander Mogilny have matched or bettered Esposito's 76 goals in a season. The 1970 season also saw Esposito shatter the single season mark for shots on goal, tallying 550. Only one other player has come within 100 shots of this record, Alexander Ovechkin in 2008–09, in a season that was four games longer than when it was set.
After his performance in the Summit Series, where he was the inspirational leader for Canada and its leading scorer in the series, Esposito won the 1972 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's outstanding male athlete of the year and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. He also scored the first goal of the series and he scored or assisted four times in the deciding game. During that series, his scolding of Canadian fans, who booed the national team after a 5–3 loss to the Soviet Union in Game Four, was credited with firing up his teammates:
"If the Russian fans boo their players in Moscow like you people are booing us, I'll come back and apologize personally to every one of you, but I really don't think that will happen. We gave it and are doing our best. All of us guys are really disheartened. . . We came out here because we love Canada. They're a good hockey team, and we don't know what we could do better, but I promise we will figure it out. But it's totally ridiculous – I don't think it is fair that we should be booed."
Esposito also played for Canada in the inaugural Canada Cup in 1976, on a line with Hall of Famers Bobby Hull and Marcel Dionne. The following year, he would represent Canada once more in the 1977 World Championships.
In 1975–76, Esposito was traded because he did not want to relinquish his playing time, even with his age. He and Carol Vadnais were traded to the New York Rangers in exchange for Brad Park, Joe Zanussi and Jean Ratelle. This trade was monumental, as Esposito was still a great scorer, but Ratelle was a skilled centre and Park was arguably the second best defenceman in the NHL, behind Bobby Orr.
While not as glittering an offensive force as in his glory days, as captain of the Rangers, Esposito led the team in points each of his full seasons with the club and remained an effective scorer until his final season. The highlight of his years in New York was leading the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final in 1979 where, at 37 years of age, he finished third in post-season scoring.
On November 4, 1977, Esposito scored his 600th NHL goal against the Vancouver Canucks in Vancouver, becoming the first player to reach that milestone in a Rangers uniform.
Esposito retired in 1981, behind only Gordie Howe in career goals and total points, and third in assists to Howe and Stan Mikita.
Esposito served as general manager and head coach of the Rangers for three years in the mid-1980s, during which he earned the nickname "Trader Phil" for the numerous transactions he made. During his tenure as GM, he made more trades than the Vancouver Canucks had made in the entire 1980s. While serving as GM, two of his most famous trades included the trade for the legendary Marcel Dionne and one which he sent a first round pick to the Quebec Nordiques as compensation for signing Michel Bergeron to be the Rangers' head coach.
Esposito moved on to found the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning but faced competition from the Compuware Group, which wanted to place a team in nearby St. Petersburg, Florida. It was proposed to Esposito that he merge his bid with the Compuware Group, which he refused. His reputation and force of personality was widely credited with winning the expansion bid for Tampa Bay—in 1992, serving as the team's president and general manager until 1998. Compuware eventually purchased the Hartford Whalers.
In the Lightning's inaugural season, Esposito made hockey history by signing Manon Rhéaume, making her the first woman to sign with an NHL team. He later admitted in his autobiography that signing Rhéaume was only a publicity stunt for the new franchise and that she had no business being in the NHL. He remains the team's radio colour commentator and also co-hosts a daily call-in show on SiriusXM's SiriusXM NHL Network Radio channel.
Esposito was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984. On December 3, 1987, his #7 jersey was retired by the Boston Bruins in an emotional ceremony where the then-current wearer, superstar defenceman Ray Bourque, pulled off his #7 jersey to reveal his new number, 77—dramatically "surrendering" his old number in Esposito's favour. Esposito was "visibly moved" when Bourque showed the Boston Garden crowd his new number, which he used for the rest of his career. Esposito was also on hand in Boston to hand Bourque his retired number after the latter retired.
Esposito's younger brother Tony is also an honoured member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Former NHL player Alexander Selivanov is Esposito's son-in-law.1968–69 – Art Ross Trophy winner
1968–69 – Hart Memorial Trophy winner
1969–70 – Stanley Cup champion
1970–71 – Art Ross Trophy winner
1970–71 – Lester B. Pearson Award winner
1971–72 – Stanley Cup champion
1971–72 – Art Ross Trophy winner
1972–73 – Lester B. Pearson Award winner
1972–73 – Art Ross Trophy winner
1973–74 – Art Ross Trophy winner
1973–74 – Hart Memorial Trophy winner
1977–78 – Lester Patrick Trophy winner
1984 – Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame
December 3, 1987 – #7 jersey retired by the Boston Bruins
Played in NHL All-Star Game (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1980)
NHL First All-Star Team (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974)
NHL Second All-Star Team (1968, 1975)
Retired as the second leading all time NHL goal and point scorer, and third in assists.
Among the all-time NHL leaders in goals scored (6th), assists (21st), and total points (10th), as of the end of the 2008–09 season.
First player in NHL history to score 1,000 points in a decade (that of the 1970s).
Won Lou Marsh Trophy as Canadian athlete of the year in 1972.
Holds the record for shots on goal in a single season with 550 in 1970–71.
All-time leader in game-winning goals with 118. (tied by fellow Bruin Jaromír Jágr on April 21, 2013)
Had thirteen consecutive 30+ goal seasons, second most in history.
In 1998, he was ranked number 18 on The Hockey News' list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players.
Inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.
Inducted in 2007 (alongside brother Tony) into the Sault Ste Marie Walk of Fame.
Ranked No. 23 on the all-time list of New York Rangers in the book 100 Ranger Greats (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).
Received a star on the Italian Walk of Fame in Toronto in 2009.
Statue unveiled in his honour in front of the Tampa Bay Times Forum (now Amalie Arena) on December 31, 2011.
Played for Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series
Played for Team Canada in the 1976 Canada Cup
Played for Team Canada in the 1977 Ice Hockey World Championships