Canadiens of all-time

Last week it was our pick to win the Stanley Cup, the Vancouver Canucks, this week it’s our pick to squeak into the playoffs as the East’s No. 8 seed, the Montreal Canadiens.

As you might imagine – and as Habs fans will be sure to quickly point out, no matter how deferential the person they’re dealing with – it’s a little bit more difficult choosing the 10 best Canadiens of all-time than it is the 10 best Canucks. So we have to thank Ken Campbell and his book Habs Heroes: The Greatest Canadiens Ever from 1 to 100, for our order of appearance today. Campbell and the learned experts he consulted listed the top 10 as follows:

10. Edouard ‘Newsy’ Lalonde, Hockey Hall of Fame inductee in 1950

The center/rover (Whew! We’re going way back here) played 10 years with Montreal from 1912 to 1922, scoring 231 goals in 179 games. Part of just a single Stanley Cup team, he won two Art Ross Trophies and was the top sniper of his time. He was also not afraid to take it to the streets, as his legendary stick-swinging duels with ‘Bad’ Joe Hall attest to.

9. Henri Richard, HHoF 1979

The center played 20 years with Montreal – the last in 1975 – winning 11 Cups, the most by a player and a ridiculous percentage. ‘The Pocket Rocket’ was an all-around player who twice led the NHL in assists, but never scored more than 30 goals or 80 points. He finished his career third in Montreal career scoring with 358 goals and 1,046 points in 1,256 games.

8. Patrick Roy, HHoF 2006

The youngest on our list, Roy arguably had his best days as a member of the Colorado Avalanche. Nevertheless the goaltender, who some will say (but we won’t) is the best ever at his position, played 10 years in Montreal (1985 to 1995) and won two Cups, two Conn Smythe Trophies, three Vezinas, four Jennings’ and was a six-time post-season all-star. He is the all-time leader in post-season games played, wins and shutouts (tied with Martin Brodeur); his work in the 1986 and ’93 playoffs is the stuff of legend.

7. Larry Robinson, HHoF 1995

Despite being a defenseman, ‘Big Bird’ is No. 5 on the Habs’ career scoring list with 197 goals and 883 points. But he was much more than a finesse player. He was smart, gritty, skilled and tough as nails (his destruction of Philly’s Dave ‘The Hammer’ Schultz in the 1976 Cup final helped lead the Canadiens to four Cups in a row). Robinson played 17 years in Montreal and during the 1970s was the best D-man on arguably the best blueline of all-time on the best team of all-time.

6. Jacques Plante, HHoF 1978

So much more than just the innovative goalie who first popularized the mask in the NHL – Clint Benedict was the original – ‘Jake the Snake’ was also the first to raise his arm to signify icing, the first to yell directions at retreating teammates, the first to corral pucks and begin breakouts and the first to leave his crease to smother pucks. Oh yeah, he was pretty good, too. With Montreal he won six Vezinas, six Cups (including five in a row in the ’50s) one Hart Trophy and was a six-time post-season all-star, all in 10 years with the team.

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5. Howie Morenz, HHoF 1945

After Newsy Lalonde, the mythical Morenz took the mantle of best Canadiens player. In 12 years with the team he won three Cups, three Harts, two Art Ross Trophies and was a three-time all-star. ‘The Stratford Streak’ helped the fledgling NHL promote itself with him as its first superstar. Larger than life while alive, Morenz’s death only added to his legend. After a particularly brutal hit badly broke his leg in January 1937, Morenz’s career was effectively over. He died either of a broken heart or coronary embolism caused by blood clots in his leg.

4. Guy Lafleur, HHoF 1988

‘Le Demon Blond’ did things in the bleu, blanc et rouge that no other Hab did before or after. His 518 goals and 1,246 points place him at the top of Montreal’s career scoring list, but he had a stretch in the ’70s few can claim to match. From 1974 to 1980, Lafleur averaged 128 points a season, winning three straight Art Ross Trophies and Pearson Awards, two straight Harts (and finishing runner-up the next year) and a Conn Smythe. He also led the league in goals twice during those six seasons. The most dynamic player in team history, he spent 14 seasons with the club from 1971 to 1985.

3. Doug Harvey, HHoF 1973

Harvey was a defensive wiz and a brawler when needed, but they broke the offensive-defenseman mold with him and it’s he who birthed future stars like Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey. He was the first of his kind and, some will argue, the best blueliner ever. From 1947 to 1961, Harvey was an all-star 10 times, won six Cups and six Norris Trophies (he was a runner-up another time and won it again in 1962 as a Ranger).

2. Jean Beliveau, HHoF 1972

‘Le Gros Bill’ is universally regarded as one of the classiest people to ever grace NHL ice, but he could play some, too. During his 20 years with the Habs he was a 10-time all-star, won 10 Cups, a scoring title and a Conn Smythe. He is, perhaps, the greatest captain the team has ever had – respected and revered by his teammates – and still evokes a sense of awe with his silvery shock of hair and noble demeanor at Canadiens games.

1. Maurice Richard, HHoF 1961

‘The Rocket’ not only led a team, he was a cultural icon in French Canada. Richard could inspire riots as well as Quiet Revolutions and, damn, could he play. The first shooter to score 50 and 500 goals, Richard played with a fire in his belly (and in his eyes) like few before or since. He led the Canadiens’ resurgence out of the 1930s and early ’40s Cup drought known as the ‘Great Darkness’ that nearly spelled the end of the franchise altogether. In 18 years with the team he was a 14-time all-star and won eight Cups, retiring as the game’s all-time leading goal-scorer. 

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