Current Canadiens captain Saku Koivu is closing in on ten full seasons with the "C" on his jersey. Having been named captain 1999, Koivu has equalled the great Jean Beliveau in tenure.
Over the years, many Canadiens great have worn the "C", but for ten years prior to Koivu's service, there was much instability in the role.
In the years from 1989 to 1999, the team passed through no less than 6 captains. Though many of those choices were worthy leaders at the time, then team president Ronald Corey always had his fingers in his GM's and coach's business. Corey had the perception that a Canadiens captain must ideally resemble Jean Beliveau in all his glorious demeanor.
What Corey failed to understand was that Beliveau was a one of a kind leader. Finding another like him, in this day is esswentially a fruitless search. Barring that, the perception of the captain, in Corey's eyes, was often more important that what the player actually brought to the team.
It is no small coincidence the, that the curse of Canadiens captains being traded did not end until Corey himself was replaced once owner George Gillett brought some stability onto the team.
Below is a statistical listing of the Canadiens captains and their games played. In chronological order, you can see the career line of each as captain and you can refer to the legend as to what the asterisks, plus signs, etc mean.
Following that, you can read on about how and why each captain in the 1990's was sacrificed.
Joe Pelletier's Greatest Hockey Legends has recently added Bob Gainey, Pierre Turgeon, Yvan Cournoyer and Sprague Cleghorn, four Habs captains, to his long list of Montreal Canadiens legends. Clicking the links on their names will bring up Joe's definitive profiles on the men who led the Habs.
Regular season and playoff game totals played by Canadiens captains since 1909.
1-Jean Beliveau 712+ (1961-71)
2-Bob Gainey 663+ (1981-89)
3-Saku Koivu 553 (1999-2009)
4-Emile "Butch" Bouchard 512+ (1948-56)
5-Hector "Toe" Blake 422+ (1940-47)
6-Guy Carbonneau 409*&+ (1989-1994)
7-Sylvio Mantha 407+ (1926-32, 1933-36)
8-Henri Richard 265+ (1971-75)
9-Yvan Cournoyer 242+ (1975-79)
10-Vincent Damphousse 228& (1996-98)
11-Maurice "Rocket" Richard 216+ (1956-60)
12-Edouard "Newsy" Lalonde 150+** (1910-22)
13-Babe Siebert 136 (1936-39)
14-Serge Savard 128++ (1979-81)
15-Pierre Turgeon 81& (1995-96)
16-Sprague Cleghorn 74+ (1922-25)
17-Doug Harvey 64 (1960-61)
18-Chris Chelios 53*& (1989-90)
19-George Hainsworth 48# (1932-33)
20-Walt Buswell 46 (1939-40)
21-Kirk Muller 33& (1994-95)
22-Billy Coutu 33 (1925-26)
23-Jack Laviolette 29 (1909-10, 1911-12)
24-Bill Durnan 28# (1947-48)
25-Mike Keane 18& (1995)
26-Howard McNamara 18+ (1915-16)
27-Jimmy Gardner 17 (1913-15)
(+) Won Stanley Cup as captain.
(++) Served as captain, in Yvan Cournoyer's absence in 1979. Was named captain following Cournoyer's retirement in the off-season.
(*) Prior to the 1989-90 season, Guy Carbonneau and Chris Chelios were voted as co-captains for the Canadiens by teammates. Carbonneau played 68 games that season, while Chelios appeared in 53. The intent of the co-captaincy was for Carbonneau to wear the "C" for home games, while Chelios would wear it on the road. Injuries made this even split complivated and it is difficult ascertain which captain wore the "C" when, and for which number of games. For simplicity sake, the "C" in these totals has been awarded for games played during that tenure.
(**) Edouard "Newsy" Lalonde was also the Canadiens coach from 1915-16 to 1921-22. He served three tenures as captain, in 1910-11, in 1912-13, and from 1916 to 1922.
(#) George Hainsworth and Bill Durnan were goaltenders who served as captains, both for one season each.
(&) Mike Keane, Pierre Turgeon, Kirk Muller, Vincent Damphousse, Guy Carbonneau, and Chris Chelios were all Canadiens captains during Ronald Corey's reign as Canadiens president. All six were traded for a variety of reasons during the Corey years.
Chris Chelios was the first captain to be dealt while Ronald Corey was the Canadiens president. Corey was always concerned with the teams image in the eyes of the public, and Chelios was percieved, even back then, as a loose cannon. His off ice activities gave Corey fits. GM Serge Savard hardly wanted to deal off the former Norris trophy winner, his admitted favorite player on the team, but his hand was forced by ownership, concerned with off ice incidents involving Chelios. Traded in 1991, Chelios has gone on to play 18 more seasons in the league.
At the time, Chelios had been brought into the news for his drinking and partying habits, and Corey scoffed at how it tarnished what he perceived as the Canadiens "saintly" image. He did not approve of his players becoming media fodder. What Corey failed to understand, is that certain players perceived as beligerant and sometimes arrogant bastards are what often enables teams to win on the ice. The same mistake was repeated with Claude Lemieux, Shayne Corson, and Patrick Roy. The Chelios deal, which was the true downspiral beginning for the franchise, was enabled by Chicago Black Hawks GM Mike Keenan, who was more than happy to offer up an aging Denis Savard in return. Corey thought he'd realized a public relations coup, in finding a centerman to feed Habs 50 goal man Stephane Richer. The two never did fit. While the Canadiens would win one more Cup under Corey's reign, Denis Savard was then an injured and sidelined player, and Richer had been traded for Kirk Muller.
Guy Carbonneau, who had been named a co - captain while Chelios, became the sole captain of the Canadiens after the latter was traded. He showed true leadership in the 1993 Cup finals, sacrificing himself offensively to play the role of Wayne Gretzky's shadow. It worked to perfection, as both the record and "The Great One" have stated. One year later, after the Canadiens were eliminated in the first round by the Boston Bruins, Carbonneau made an unconcious off ice gesture that ended his career as a Canadien.
Only days after being bounced from the playoffs, the media descended upon captain Carbonneau, in of all places, a golf course. A quick interview ensued, a quote ot two was taken, and then Carbonneau teed off and went up the fairway. As he was about to set up a second shot, a media person yelled something out. Carbonneau, hundreds of feet up the fairway, jokingly flipped a bird at the media scrum, who had caught the finger on camera.
The next day, Le Journal De Montreal idiotically ran the photo - front page! Corey freaked and the fickle finger of fate led to Carbonneau being dealt off to St. Louis for center Jim Montgomery. Montgomery would play all of five games with Montreal in 1994-95 before being traded ro Philadelphia. Carbonneau played six more seasons, winning a third Stanly Cup for himself with Dallas in 1999.
When the opportunity presented itself for Savard to aquire the Islanders Pierre Turgeon, two years removed from a 58 goal season for Muller, he couldn't pass it up. Mathieu Schneider, another of Corey's perceived bad boys, was also offed in the mega deal that had the Habs adding Vladimir Malakhov. While the added players brought an abundance of talent to the team, they sacrificed heart and character. Corey saw Beliveau in Turgeon's quiet and timid personality, and envisioned his as a future captain, for all the wrong reasons.
Traditionally, it has been the Canadiens players themselves who vote for the team captain. One exception was made in 1982 when the GM Irving Grundman, unwilling to take any chances, broke tradition and named Bob Gainey as team leader.
In the wake of Muller being dealt, the Canadiens players voted gutsy Mike Keane as their next captain. Keane was a leader in every sense of the word, but had little star quality about him. The press again grumbled that he was another english only captain. Keane, when questioned about his willingness to learn french, sidestepped the issue altogether by stating that the dressing room language was english. The french media, of course, jumped all over the quote and misappropriated it, making their relations with Keane in regards to post game interviews somewhat tense and uncomfortable.
Corey recognized this, and Keane was as good as gone at the first opportunity, which presented itself with the Patrick Roy fiasco only weeks later. In the interim, GM Savard had been axed, and replace by Rejean Houle, who would buckle at all of Corey's future demands.
The Avalanche were thrilled to take the future Hall Of Famer Roy off Houle and Corey's hand, and were pleasantly surprised when the Canadiens wished to add Keane in the mix. The amount of leadership added with those two players manifested itself into a Stanley Cup for Colorado in short order.
At that time, he Canadiens were about to move from the legendary Forum to the Molson (Bell) Centre that winter, and Corey could not foresee Keane taking part in the grandiose closing and opening ceremonies he had planned for the event. Corey had long envioned a different captain for that celebration.
Pierre Turgeon, as per Corey's wishes, was then annointed the Canadiens new captain. Coming off an excellent 96 point season, he seemed to have everything in Corey's mind, a Habs captain needed. He was a quiet, clean living player, who also happened to be a star. Only Turgeon didn't really have his heart in the job.
After the Canadiens were ousted of the 1996 playoffs after one round, the criticism of all that Turgeon wasn't, came to a head. Turgeon was simply an offensive talent, and little else. He was a puppet captain, in a sense, and his leadership and desire were often being questioned. He had long worn a "tin man" reputation that he couldn't shake, and quickly became terribly unhappy in his pressured role as Canadiens captain.
What was also nagging at Turgeon was his demotion to third line center. The Habs started the 1996-97 season off well enough, and second year centerman Koivu was leading the league in scoring after 10 games. Top line center, Vincent Damphousse was also producing well and was employed in a two-way role totally alien to Turgeon.
Turgeon balked at the decreased ice time and complained to new GM Rejean Houle. The team tried to up Turgeon's minutes by having him on the left side of Koivu, and he registered 4 assists in his final game as a Hab. Houle, never one to show much patience with unhappy stars, dealt Turgeon to St.Louis in a package that returned a temporarily rejuvenated Shayne Corson to Montreal.
In the wake of the deal, Damphousse, an excellent choice, was made captain. He was a decent all around player just approaching a slight downslide in his production. He was currently being paid a lofty salary over two seasons, with his deal about to expire. Contract negotiations began toward the end of the 1998-99 season, and Damphousse made it understood that taking the same salary for next season was out of the question. The Canadiens organization began to fall on hard times, as playoff failures and a weak Canadian dollar were setting up what would soon be the sale of the team.
Damphousse was dealt to the San Jose Sharks at the trade deadline with an eye on next seasons budget. The team received draft choices for their captain, the best of which, was a flip-flop of 1st rounders should Damphousse sign as a Shark. That pick became Marcel Hossa.
Saku Koivu became the newest man to wear the "C" in Montreal, and not without some controversy. First and foremost, it was perceived that Koivu had yet to put in the years of required service with the team and was too young to understand the responsabilities of being a captain in Montreal. It was also debated whether he was really the team players choice, as many voted for Shayne Corson and it was said that the vote ended in a draw with Houle and Corey siding on Koivu.
Last, and not inconsequential to the city's culture, they had another non french speaking captain.
When this point was brought to Koivu, the Finn didn't flinch. Instead of uttering the usual false cliche of having to sign up for french courses, Koivu stated that he didn't see the need to learn it all, and that a captain's duties were to the teammates and coaches first and everything else was secondary.
Over the years, Koivu has always, with some exceptions, made himself readily available to all fans and media, and the language issues rarely became a hinderance in his functions. Ten years later, the french media still give him a rough ride on the language issue, often countering that a lack of leadership is at the root of their displeasure with him.
Despite tremendous obstacles and pressure, Koivu has aquitted himself quite well in his duties since 1999. He has lasted in the role long enough to break the traded captain curse that became a sad trend for the 1990's Canadiens.