Recently, EOTP's managing editor Andrew Berkshire received an email suggesting a series of articles on the top 10 Habs trades of each decade, starting with the 1990s. The suggestion came from an individual with an excellent name; Matt. You may know Matt as HFX-HabFan from the comments section, so before I begin I'd like to thank him for an excellent suggestion.
Now when I say top 10, I'm not necessarily saying that all of the trades were good. Most die-hard Habs fans will know that the 90s marked a steep decline in the dominance of the Canadiens. Really, the decline of the Habs started at the end of the 70s and the last Canadiens dynasty, but got progressively worse through the 80s and 90s. I'm currently working on a lengthy article that will delve into further detail on the decline of the Habs, but we'll save that for another day... anyhow, on to the subject of the day; the much-maligned Chris Chelios for Denis Savard trade.
You've probably seen Denis Savard's highlight reel as a Chicago Blackhawk. If you haven't, go type his name into YouTube, and prepare to be awestruck. The video below illustrates one of the greatest goals ever scored, as Denis Savard dangles around pretty much the entire Oilers squad to score. The Gatineau, QC native is someone that Habs fans would have loved to see in the CH from day one, but he was selected third overall by the Blackhawks in 1980.
Chris Chelios is a name every hockey fan knows. He played quite successfully in the league for an absurd length of time, winning three Norris trophies and three Stanley Cups. Montreal was Chelios' draft team in 1981. For his six seasons as a Hab, Chelios was a force on the blueline, defensively and offensively, winning the Cup with the team in 1986 and the Norris for the 88-89 season. He is the last Canadiens defenceman to win the cup before P.K. Subban did it this year, and is surely up there as one of the best blueliners to put on the tricolore.
By 1989, Chelios had become one of the leaders on the team, and was co-captain alongside Guy Carbonneau. However, in that offseason he was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks, along with a second round draft pick, for the legendary Denis Savard. Some Habs fans were thrilled; a local legend was coming home. The educated fans, not so much. Savard was a beaten up 29-year-old, having missed 42 games due to injury over the previous two seasons, while Chelios had just won the Norris, was healthy and in his prime. Chelios was a Chicago native, and I don't know how much impact that had on the deal, but my research shows he was not unhappy in Montreal and probably would have stayed if not for the trade.
Personally, I view this trade the same way I view the signing of Daniel Briere. It was more about bringing in a Quebec born hero than improving the team. Sure, the Habs won a Stanley Cup in '93 with Savard on the team, but given that Chelios was younger, and in my opinion, better, I don't see how that team would have done any worse with Chelios. If anything, maybe his presence on the blue line would have made Patrick Roy's job a little easier. Maybe St. Patrick wouldn't have allowed nine goals one night and essentially quit the team if Chelios had been out there defending. Maybe the Habs would have 25, or 26 Cups by now; but I digress, as all of this is speculative and cannot be substantiated. Nevertheless, my point is that this trade was one that I don't feel had any real upside for the Canadiens at the time.
Chelios went on to two more Norris wins and two more Cup wins as a Blackhawk and a Red Wing, while Savard only played three seasons in Montreal before fading out with the Lightning and ending his career where it started, in Chicago. He was effective as a Hab, with two 28-goal seasons and never registering less than 40 points, but I think the team would have been better suited with the longevity and consistency of Chris Chelios. The general manager of the time was Serge Savard, but I've read some accounts suggesting that the trading of Chelios was pushed for by team President Ronald Corey. Let's forget the blame game anyway; I'd equate this to trading P.K. Subban for, say Vincent Lecavalier, which would make me rip all of the hairs out of my head in frustration. Yes, I'd be mad at Bergevin but I'd be too distraught to blame him directly; it would be more of a general anger at life itself. This may come off as an over-exaggerated comparison, but I find this trade to be among the worst in the history of the team, and the comparison just illustrates my disdain for it.
Feel free to disagree with me, and argue amongst yourselves in the comments section, but let's face it... this was a really bad trade. But hey, in over 100 years of history, there are bound to be some bad times.