MONTREAL – Jean Beliveau was perhaps the greatest captain in Montreal Canadiens history and he sees no problem with the team taking its time before pinning the C on anyone’s jersey this season.
The Canadiens made sweeping personnel changes in the summer, letting go of 10 free agents, including 10-year captain Saku Koivu, and trading away Chris Higgins, while bringing seven new veterans onto the team.
The club has two wins and two losses in its first four games and ends a season-opening five-game road trip Saturday night in Edmonton.
“Since we have so many new players, give the organization a chance to know them better,” Beliveau said Friday outside the Bell Centre, where he took part in yet another ceremony to celebrate the team’s 100th anniversary. “There’s nothing wrong starting with three alternate captains.
“Even if they have to wait until Christmas, by that time they should know. It’s not only what they do on the ice, but it’s also the way they face situations (that shows if ) they have the ability to wear the C.”
Newcomers Brian Gionta, Hal Gill and Mike Cammalleri are the team’s current alternate captains. Defenceman Andrei Markov started the season wearing an A, but suffered a foot injury in the season-opener in Toronto and will be out four-to-six months.
The Canadiens started strong with a pair of overtime wins, but then were nipped 4-3 in Calgary and trounced 7-1 in Vancouver.
Guy Lafleur, the goal-scoring great from the 1970s, said the jury is still out on whether his old teammate Bob Gainey, now the Canadiens general manager, was right to clean house in the off-season.
“I think he’s gambling everything,” said Lafleur. “Last year, he ended a term of five years where they didn’t have a lot of success so I think he said ‘this year I’m going to try something to see what will happen.’
“The main reason he did that was maybe to change the atmosphere in the room and to try to bring the guys more together as a team. Hopefully he’ll come out of it without too many scratches. But it’s a big change. Not many teams start the season like that, where most of your team is brand new.”
Lafleur has a weekly column in a local newspaper in which he sometimes has had scathing criticism of his old clubs. Two seasons ago, he bruised some egos when he wrote that they had no first line, only four fourth lines. He also took former Canadiens star Alex Kovalev to task his inconsistent performances. Kovalev was among the players let go last summer and he now plays for Ottawa.
This year, he’s cutting them some slack.
“It’s too early to comment,” he said. “It’s normal that you have your ups and downs.
“Out west now, they’re struggling a bit, but it’s a long year and we’ll see what happens. The spirit of the team seems to be better than last year, so that’s a big improvement.”
Beliveau and Lafleur were joined by several former Canadiens, including 91-year-old Elmer Lach, Dickie Moore, Phil Goyette, Yvan Cournoyer, Rejean Houle and Yvon Lambert for ceremonies at Centennial Plaza in front of the Bell Centre.
First, Mayor Gerald Tremblay oversaw the change in the name of the stretch of De La Gauchetiere Street in front of the arena to Avenue des Canadiens de Montreal.
Then the players watched as a monument was unveiled to the 761 players who played at least one game for the team in its first 100 seasons. Each player’s name is engraved in alphabetical order on one side of the monument, which features the team logo on a pedestal.
“We always talk about the dynasties and things like that, but we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary and everybody’s part of it,” said Lafleur. “They proved it today by having guys here who only played one game with the team.
“I’m very happy about that.”
On hand were Don Johns and Jean-Guy Morrissette, who each wore the red-white-and-blue once in the 1960s.
Goaltender Morrissette got into a game in the second period of a 6-3 loss to Toronto on Oct. 30, 1963, after starter Gump Worsley was injured. He allowed four goals on 17 shots in his one and only NHL appearance. The record book lists him with a 0-1-1 record with a 6.67 goals-against average. The next day, he broke a cheekbone when he was hit by a puck and was gone for the season.
Johns played parts of four seasons with the New York Rangers and spent time in the Chicago Blackhawks system before he joined the Canadiens. He played a game for Montreal in the 1965-66 season, during Beliveau’s captaincy, but never got another chance. He did not get any points.
“A lot of other things went on that night,” said Johns, who had two goals and 21 assists in 153 career NHL games. “After the game, my mother passed away, and I think that’s why I only wound up with only one game. But I enjoyed it and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“It’s quite an honour to be included. Since they started this celebration of 100 years, they’ve included me in quite a few things, which is quite nice.”
The Canadiens played their 100th season in 2008-09 but celebrate the anniversary of their founding on Dec. 4. The opened Centennial Plaza last December.