Scotty Bowman, And The Undoing Of The Canadiens Dynasty

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Thirty years ago today, on May 21, 1979, the Canadiens beat the New York Rangers 4-1 to claim their 22nd Stanley Cup.

Few knew on that day, that it would be the last game coached by Scotty Bowman, and the last game played by future Hall Of Famers Ken Dryden and Jacques Lemaire. Additionally, Yvan Cournoyer, who had appeared in only 15 games in the regular season, would retire along with Dryden and Lemaire.

As the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks scratch and claw their way towards a berth in this season's Cup final, it is Bowman who has been on my mind of late. With a large say in the hockey operations department of the Red Wings and now the young Blackhawks squad, Bowman was my chosen answer to a question that was posed to me recently. It went:

"If you had the choice - with no limit on spending money or factual reality - who would you pick to coach the Canadiens?"

My option took all the cash, and remained in the bounds of reality - almost. Being that Toe Blake is deceased and Mike Babcock is under contract - how about Bowman? The legend of coaching is alive and well, with a mind as sharp as a tack.

For all the money in the world, would he come back to run the Canadiens - coaching or not - in his seventies?

I don't think the question is insane, although there is sound reason for him to be in Chicago other than simply hockey. Bowman's son Stanley is the Blackhawks assistant general manager. He is also in the midst of beating Hodgkin's lymphoma, and the former Habs coach is happy to be at his side.

Hey, if I have all the mullah I can use, why not bring them both along? It repairs a bridge burned 30 years ago, and the best way to bring a Stanley to Montreal might to bring this Stanley to Montreal, Scotty in tow.

The Canadiens dynasty, to be technically correct, did not end on May 21, 1979. "The Drive For Another Five" bit the dust eleven months later, on April 27, 1980. The slayers of "The Drive" were a bunch of upstart Minnesota North Stars, who capitalized on goalie Denis Herron's out of crease blunder to defeat the Habs in the seventh game by a 3-2 mark.

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Doug Jarvis, who had never until then not won a Cup in his four seasons in Montreal, bawled like a baby in the dressing room.

In the city of Montreal, the disbelief translated dynasty, into "Die, no! Hostie!"

I recall feeling an unbelievably desperate helplessness, an emotion I can only say was ever matched in my life by John Lennon's assassination eight months later.

Theoretically, the dynasty began to wind to end one year before the Canadiens triumph over the Rangers. Canadiens GM Sam Pollock had decided to leave the Canadiens to move into the business world, and decided with that, that he would not have Bowman as his successor.

The GM's reigns were handed to - shall we say fumbled by, Pollock's choice for the job - Irving Grundman.

In general terms, Grundman's tenure was fairly successful in the short term. Some of his initial moves held promise, and Montreal won another Cup. He became somewhat overvillified once they lost, and his stint in the GM's role has forever been regarded as an unmitigated disaster.

With Bowman still successful in hockey thirty years later, the question has often been asked as to why the Canadiens let Bowman go.

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The answer comes from Pollock himself, who feared handing the team to Bowman, as he knew better than anyone else that his coach would tear the team apart transaction by transaction. As Pollock did not wish his dynasty to be dismantled in his wake, he chose Grundman over Bowman to fill his shoes.

The only problem was, Grundman may have been a business whiz trained by Pollock, but he hardly had the panache of a hockey man. He was eaten alive by his own incompetance.

Grundman proceded to do exactly what Bowman would not have done, which was hang onto his aging clubs assets a season or two too long.

Whereas Pollock often treated player assets as though they were livestock, Grundman treated the teams stars like vintage wines - only they didn't become more valuable in time.

Bowman just might have been the ideal poker face to deal and play the cards of his full house. Not keeping him in the Canadiens fold, was not only the genial Pollock worst move, it might have been the most detrimental slight in Canadiens history.

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Not only did it lead to a dynasty being undone, it did so with chicken feed returns at an accelerated pace. Two seasons after they last hoisted a Cup, the Habs were playoff patsies being pasted by Gretzky's Oilers. Two more seasons, and three coaching changes later, the club hit an all time low - a 75 point season nadir.

Somewhere between heaven and hell, lie the decision not to allow Bowman to cash in the chips.

Looking back on that era, it is truly mind boggling to list the players - and many a great one - who left the Canadiens organization for little or no return dividend. Under a close examination, a virtual entire roster of uncashed assets, helped decimate the Canadiens over the next decade plus.

The lack of talent continuity based on diminishing returns is obvious in hindsight, but this exercise bases itself on what was to be belived as Bowman's foresight at the time.

I've chosen to examine a group of 28 players who participated in 5 Cups wins between 1973 and 1979 in order to illustrate the downfall of the Habs 1970's dynasty. As the diminishing returns over seasons still managed to produce a pair of Stanley Cups (1986, 1993) in the interim, the depth on the team - historically - has never been replaced.

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The group of 27 players, divides itself a first group of 13 and a second one of 14. The first group are players that the Canadiens received no dividend from as they all retired due to different scenarios. While some were simply destined to retire as career long Canadiens, other reasons played into it as well.

The second group of 14 includes players the Canadiens were able to get some return on, however small they were. Eight players descending from that group were members of Cup teams in 1986 and 1993. 

Henri Richard (retired)

Jacques Laperriere (retired due to injury)

Marc Tardiff (WHA)

Frank Mahovlich (WHA)

Bill Nyrop (retired, in part for monetary and educational reasons)

Yvan Cournoyer (retired due to injury)

Jacques Lemaire (retired)

Ken Dryden (retired)

Serge Savard (retired)Rejean Houle (retired due to injury)

Guy Lafleur (retired - refused a trade request)

Pierre Mondou (retired due to injury)

Mario Tremblay (retired due to injury)

Bob Gainey (retired)

Using the Neil Young motto of it being "better to burn out than to fade away", Henri, Laperriere, Cournoyer, Savard, Tremblay and Gainey all gave the Canadiens their last ounce before expiring. Trading them away might never have been a consideration.

Of these 14 players - including 9 future Hall of Famers - the Canadiens received no return value to the team.

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Richard, Laperriere, Savard, and Gainey retired due to their age and Cournoyer, Tremblay, Houle, and Mondou retired due to injury.

Mahovlich and Tardiff followed the scent of money and went on to play in the WHA. Tardiff later returned to the NHL with Quebec Nordiques.

Dryden, Lemaire, and Nyrop retired with much hockey left in them, and the same could be said of Guy Lafleur, who was essentially forced to retire as the Canadiens would not fit him into their system of play nor exercise his wish for a trade. Four years later, Lafleur still had three seasons of hockey left in him. Savard and Nyrop made brief returns to the NHL with other teams.

To quote another angry 1970's rocker - Elvis Costello - "Everything means less than zero!"

The remaining group of 14 players departed Montreal in the following chronological transactions. Their returns are in brackets.

Pete Mahovlich (with Peter Lee to Pittsburgh for Pierre Larouche, Peter Marsh - Dec. 15/77)

Pierre Bouchard (claimed on waivers by Washington - Oct. 9/1978)

Rick Chartraw (to Los Angeles for 2nd round pick '83 - Claude Lemieux - Feb 17/81)

Michel Larocque (to Toronto for Robert Picard - Mar. 10/81)

Yvon Lambert (claimed by Buffalo in waiver draft - Oct. 5/81)

Pierre Larouche (to Hartford for 1st round pick '83 - Petr Svoboda - Dec. 21/81)

Guy Lapointe (for St.Louis' 2nd round pick, 1983 - Sergio Momesso - Mar. 9/82)

Doug Jarvis (with Englom, Langway, and Craig Laughlin to Washington for Ryan Walter, Rick Green - Sep. 9/82)

Brian Engblom (with Jarvis, Langway, and Laughlin to Washington for Ryan Walter, Rick Green - Sep. 9/82)

Rod Langway (with Englom, Jarvis, and Laughlin to Washington for Ryan Walter, Rick Green - Sep. 9/82)

Doug Risebrough (to Calgary for 2nd and 3rd round picks '83, '84 - Todd Francis, Graeme Bonar - Sep. 11/82)

Mark Napier (to Minnesota with Keith Acton for Bobby Smith - Oct. 28/83)

Steve Shutt (for future considerations to Los Angeles - Nov. 19/83, later reacquired at same price)

Larry Robinson (signed as a free agent by Los Angeles - July 26/89) 

Of this second group of 14, eleven players were dispatched to other teams by the time Irving Grundman was replaced prior to the 1983-84 season. Only Napier, Shutt and Robinson remained.

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Of this second group of 14, only Robinson was still around to play on the 1986 Cup winning team.

From the first group of 14, Gainey and Tremblay (though he was injured and did not play) were on the 1986 Cup team.

Seven players acquired in trades involving the second group of 14, played on the 1986 Cup winner. They were Claude Lemieux, Petr Svoboda (seldomly used), Sergio Momesso (injured and did not play in playoffs), Ryan Walter, Rick Green, Bobby Smith, and Patrick Roy.

Roy had been acquired via the trading of Robert Picard, during the Savard regime, on November 4, 1983. Picard was dealt to Winnipeg for their third round selection (Roy) in the 1984 draft.

In trickle down terms, by the time of the 1986 Stanley Cup win, there were 9 assets remaining from the 1979 championship that played in the season following. They were Robinson and Gainey, who remained on the scene since the dynasty had ended, and Momesso, Walter, Green, Svoboda, Lemieux, Smith and Roy.

Of those 9 players, Gainey retired following the 1989 season and Robinson, as noted above, signed as a free agent with Los Angeles that summer.

Concerning the remaining seven players, here is how their destinies with the Canadiens played out, chronologically.

Sergio Momesso (traded to St. Louis with Vincent Riendeau for Jocelyn Lemieux and 2nd round pick '89 - Patrice Brisebois - Aug. 9/88)

Rick Green (retired, rights later traded to Detroit for 5th round pick Brad Layzell - Jun. 15/90)

Bobby Smith (traded to Minnesota for 4th round pick in 1992 - Louis Bernard - Aug. 7/90)

Claude Lemieux (traded to New Jersey for Sylvain Turgeon - Sep. 4/90)

Ryan Walter (signed as free agent with Vancouver - Jul. 26/91)

Petr Svoboda (traded to Buffalo for Kevin Haller - Mar. 10/92)

Patrick Roy (traded with Mike Keane to Colorado for Jocelyn Thibeault, Andrei Kovalenko, Martin Rucinski - Dec. 6/95)

From the 7 assets above, only Roy, Brisebois, and Haller are descendant player assets from the 1970's dynasty that won the Stanley Cup in 1993. Layzell and Bernard, as prospects, vanished into the mist. Jocelyn Lemieux was traded to Chicago for a 3rd round pick in 1990 that became Charles Poulin and Turgeon was claimed by Ottawa in the 1993 expansion draft. Poulin never panned out.

Within two seasons, Roy and Haller were gone. Haller was dealt to Philadelphia for Yves Racine on June 29, 1994 and Roy was traded with Mike Keane to Colorado for Jocelyn Thibeault, Andrei Kovalenko, Martin Rucinski on December 6, 1995. Once Racine was claimed on waivers by San Jose on January 23, 1996, all that remained in trickle down assets from the 28 Canadiens players of the 1970's dynasty were Patrice Brisebois, Thibault, Rucinski and Kovalenko.

J. Lemieux (traded to Chicago for third round pick in 1990 - Patrick Poulin - Jan.5/90)

Turgeon (claimed by Ottawa in expansion draft Jun. 18/92)

Haller (traded to Philadelphia for Yves Racine - Jun. 29/94)

Racine (claimed on waivers by San Jose - Jan. 23/96)

After the trading of Roy in 1995, the dimished returns were even thinner. The 3 players received for Roy were turned over within seven seasons for a total of 12 players. The Canadiens included four players assets (Manson, Brown, Brunet and Ulanov) in acquiring these additional 12 assets. No assets remain today from the descendants of the Roy deal. Here is how those transactions played out.

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Andrei Kovalenko (traded to Edmonton for Scott Thornton - Sep. 6/96)

Jocelyn Thibeault (with Dave Manson and Brad Brown to Chicago for Jeff Hackett, Eric Weinrich, Alain Nasreddine, Chris Dyment - Nov. 16/98)

Martin Rucinski (traded with Benoit Brunet to Dallas for Donald Audette, Shaun Van Allen - Nov. 21/2001)

Alain Nasreddine (to Edmonton with Igor Ulanov for Christian Laflamme, Mathieu Descoteaux - March 9/2000)

Eric Weinrich (to Boston for Patrick Traverse - Feb. 21/2001)

Juha Lind (FA - Sweden June 2001)

Christian Laflamme (FA St. Louis - August 2001)

Scott Thornton (to Dallas for Juha Lind - Jan. 22/2002)

Shaun Van Allen (FA Ottawa - Jul. 24/2002)

Donald Audette (FA Florida - Jan. 15/2004)

Jeff Hackett (to San Jose for Niklas Sundstrom - Jan. 23/2004)

Patrick Traverse (FA Dallas - Sep. 9/2004)

Niklas Sundstrom (FA - Sweden June 2006)

Chris Dyment and Mathieu Descoteaux never made a dent with the organization and Patrice Brisebois was signed as a free agent with Colorado in August 2005.

By June of 2006, the Canadiens had not one single player asset remaining from the two groups of 14 players from the 1970's.

As the first group of 14 had no returns to the club, the second group of 14 players translated into a total of 34 player assets between 1978 and 2006. There were 27 roster players in addition to 7 prospects that did not pan out. The players acquired chronologically were Larouche, C. Lemieux, Picard, Svoboda, Momesso, Walter, Green, Smith, Roy, J. Lemieux, Brisebois, Turgeon, Haller, Thibault, Kovalenko, Rucinski, Racine, Thornton, Hackett, Weinrich, Nasredone, Audette, Van Allen, Laflamme, Traverse, Lind, and Sundstrom.

C. Lemieux, Svoboda, Momesso, and Brisebois represent draft picks that panned out for the club.

Marsh, Francis, Bonar, Layzell, Bernard, Dyment and Descoteaux represent picks and prospects who did not.

In order to receive these 34 assets, the Canadiens added 9 further assets in trades. That group includes Lee, Laughlin, Acton, Riendeau, Keane, Manson, Brown, Brunet and Ulanov.

In summation, Montreal acquired 27 players for 22 players, if one does not include the initial group of 14 and excludes players who did not end up with the Canadiens.

Of those 27 players, nine players (including the four Montreal drafted) shared a total of ten Cup wins. They are; one each for Lemieux, Svoboda, Momesso, Walter, Green, Smith, Brisebois and Haller, and two for Roy.

The final breakdown shows that of the 28 player assets available to the Canadiens they were able to acquire only four draft choices and five other players via trades that helped them to two Stanley Cup wins.

The 9 players sharing 10 Cups wins are descendants from the 28 players who shared 124 Cups between them.

All in all, a sad return on a glorious dynasty.

The Canadiens should have kept Bowman!

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