In the winter of 1985, upon the occasion of their 75th anniversary, the Canadiens unveiled an all time team comprised of six players and a coach. The list included goalie Jacques Plante, defensemen Doug Harvey and Larry Robinson, center Jean Beliveau, right winger Maurice Richard and left winger Dickie Moore. It is doubtful that much would change should the Canadiens unveil a 100th anniversary team, as the club has won only two additional Cups in the past 25 seasons.
In tossing a few ideas around for celebrating the Habs 100th, Chris Boyle and I thought it might be interesting to put a fan's spin on the idea. We thought we'd give it a little extra kick and make it a Top 5 ranking at each position, which may be cause for more debate.
Here are the lists we've come up with, and some reasoning for their ranking.
Goalie - Jacques Plante
It's hard to argue against Plante as the Habs all-time greatest goalie. Along with there not being a single thing he hasn't accomplished, he's revolutionized the position, not to mention the game itself in the process of his career.
Bill Durnan (2)
First All-Star Team Goalie (1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1950)
Vezina Trophy (1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1950)
The ambidextrous Durnan was the man that set a high bar for Plante, owning practically all awards available to him in his short seven year career. On the testament of those who saw him play, it is said that he was at his prime his entire NHL career, and was the most combative goalie of his era. His effect on the 1943-44 Canadiens basically turned the franchise around and pointed it towards better days. Durnan joined what was a weak Canadiens team and left it poised for a run of dynastic proportions.
Ken Dryden (6)
Calder Memorial Trophy (1972)
Conn Smythe Trophy (1971)
First All-Star Team Goalie (1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979)
Second All-Star Team Goalie (1972)
Vezina Trophy (1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979)
Despite a multitude of individual awards, Dryden ranks just behind Durnan simply because of the team in front of him. The 1970's Canadiens were a powerhouse that rarely had off-nights. Dryden of course, was stellar throughout, including being the difference maker in the surprise 1971 Cup, but it is his classic pose of leaning on his stick that is his lasting image. On a great many Habs teams, there were many nights where Dryden's work was simplified by the force in front of him.
Patrick Roy (2)
Conn Smythe Trophy (1986, 1993)
NHL All-Rookie Team (1986)
NHL First All-Star Team (1989, 1990, 1992,)
NHL Second All-Star Team (1988, 1991)
Vezina Trophy (1989, 1990, 1992)
William M. Jennings Trophy (1987, 1988, 1989, 1992)
If Dryden lived a reality similar to Plante, then it can be said that Patrick Roy made good teams great in the same manner as Durnan. As confident as any goaltender that ever lived, Roy was the ultimate warrior in goalie gear, thrusting two Canadiens teams to victory on his strenghts alone.
Georges Vezina (2)
The early prototype for the "cool under pressure" goalie, Vezina played 328 straight games in goal for Les Habitant. One of the early pillars of the franchise itself, Vezina backstopped the Canadiens to a pair of Cup wins and three finals in a fifteen year career.
Honourable Mentions: George Hainsworth, Gerry McNeil, Gump Worsley
Defense - Doug Harvey
Doug Harvey was not the game's first rushing defensemen, nor was he the first to post consistently high numbers for a rearguard. What Harvey did better than the rest, was create the quarterback defenseman, able to control the speed of a game at a whim's notice. That he was practically nonchalant in his domination only added allure to his legend.
Conn Smythe Trophy (1978)
First All-Star Team Defense (1977, 1979, 1980)
James Norris Memorial Trophy (1977, 1980)
Second All-Star Team Defense (1978, 1981, 1986)
Robinson was quite the package for a rearguard as combined awkward grace, brawn, size, mobility and vision in a large frame. A quarterback and a policeman, Larry was a double edged threat whose strengths spanned all 200 feet of the rink. Perhaps his greatest asset was that his game adjusted to the circumstance and getting him angry only made him better.
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (1979)
Conn Smythe Trophy (1969)
Second All-Star Team Defense (1979)
A great skater, Savard mastered in tempo adjustment without fanfare much in the Harvey mold. Difficult to beat one on one, he had an innate sense of turning the play up ice on a dime. Able to shift gears according to the game situation, Savard could snuff out offensives by playing the rock, or command a rush equal to the game's greats.
Played in NHL All-Star Game (2008, 2009)
Markov has been the backbone of the current Habs' squad for longer than many realize. It takes a keen eye to appreciate the gifts Markov brings, as he not only is bearer of some of the game sweetest passing, but he is also one of the most economical rearguards in terms of poise and positioning. On a team loaded with talent, Markov would post 100 point seasons.
Cleghorn was never a typical defenseman in the traditional sense. He could score while rushing the puck with reckless abandon and used his stick in the same manner a surgeon wields a scalpel. For the most part, he protected teammates like few had ever done, and fewer have since. Cleghorn is simply the meanest son of a bitch to ever grace a hockey rink. In scaring the crap out of opponents, he assured the Canadiens greater talents were kept unharmed.
Honourable Mentions: Emile Bouchard, Kenny Reardon, Guy Lapointe
Center - Jean Beliveau
Class and grace personified, Beliveau entered the game as one of the biggest centers hockey had seen. His reach and command of the puck, his shot and size, were a rare package. Among his many skills, Beliveau was also a natural born leader, an inspiring presence, and a gift to the game. It could be that Jean is also the most decent and compassionate player the game has produced.
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (1974)
First All-Star Team Centre (1958)
Second All-Star Team Centre (1959, 1961, 1963)
A fiery little center cut from the same passionate mold as his older brother, the Rocket, all Henri could do was win. A consumate team man, and possibly the era's most rounded player, Henri took on whatever task was required, all in the name of team and victory. Pestulant as they come, there was no quit in this tireless worker. Only a player exactly like him could have lasted long enough to win 11 Stanley Cups.
Art Ross Trophy (1928, 1931)
First All-Star Team Centre (1931, 1932)
Hart Memorial Trophy (1928, 1931, 1932)
Second All-Star Team Centre (1933)
Imagine inducing Guy Lafleur with a touch of Rocket Richard's fiery gaze and trasplanting him back in time to the 1920's and you would have a solid idea of Howie Morenz brought to hockey in it's first true heyday. A fireball lauched from a cannon, Morenz had plenty of game and spirit, and his skills for the day were a revelation of sorts. Did what before had done, and raised the level of awareness for the game's possibilities.
Art Ross Trophy (1919, 1921)
Hockey and the Canadiens' first superstar, Lalonde was all brimstone, blur and bluster. A prolific scorer, he was also the game's first real badass. Part prima donna, part innovator, Lalonde seized games as canvases, and he wasn't shy to cause a stir when a shakeup was required.
Art Ross Trophy (1945, 1948)
First All-Star Team Centre (1945, 1948, 1952)
Hart Memorial Trophy (1945)
Second All-Star Team Centre (1944, 1946)
A slick passing center with a nose for the grinstone, Lach was the director of traffic for the great Punch Line of he, Blake and Richard. A savvy manner of the puck, Elegant Elmer was a fierce competitor whose enthusiasm for winning knew no bounds. Never has grace and recklessness ever been so productively packaged better in one player. Retired in 1954 as hockey's all-time point leader.
Honourable Mentions: Jacques Lemaire, Peter Mahovlich, Vincent Damphousse
Right Wing - Guy Lafleur
A gazelle with wings, Lafleur was an artist on ice, fleetly eluding everything in his path. Possessing several gears of acceleration, moves that had never been seen, a blistering wrist shot and an accurate slapper, Lafleur was the game's unstoppable force for six straight seasons of dominance. My vote for the most exciting player of all time.
First All-Star Team Right Wing (1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1955, 1956)
Hart Memorial Trophy (1947)
Second All-Star Team Right Wing (1944, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1957)
A trailblazer made of passion and fury, the Rocket battled like no one before him, bringing an awe to goal scoring that left mouths gaping. A bulldozer of desire from the blueline in, Richard fought for every inch of ice he claimed and owned. Impossible to assess in brief, his influence transcends his sport. Just your typical unique icon.
Conn Smythe Trophy (1973)
Second All-Star Team Right Wing (1969, 1971, 1972, 1973)
Like Lafleur, the Roadrunner was all wheels and delivery. You can't catch what you can't see, and Yvan never stood still with a puck on stick for long. Owner of a wicked drive and a precise wrister, Cournoyer personified the Flying Frenchmen myth. A leader and an inspiration, Cournoyer was the first player I ever saw that was actually too fast for himself.
Art Ross Trophy (1955, 1961)
Calder Memorial Trophy (1952)
First All-Star Team Right Wing (1961)
Hart Memorial Trophy (1961)
Second All-Star Team Right Wing (1955, 1960)
Beef, muscle and stubborness were the Boomer's calling cards, as he patrolled his wing with all the precision of a shotgun. Geoffrion was all out, and never minced tempos in his zest for the net. One of the game's great comedians, Boomer's heart was on his sleeve every inch of the way. In popularizing the slap shot, he altered the game, and goalie's noses in the process.
Played in NHL All-Star Game (1990)
A combination of both Lafleur and Boomer at times, Richer seemed like a reincarnation and an encapsulation of many great Habs all in one. While not entirely as consistent as his talent should have dictated, he remains theonly Canadiens player other than Lafleur to reach two 50 goal seasons.
Honourable Mentions: Didier Pitre, Alex Kovalev, Aurele Joliat
Left Wing - Dickie Moore
Guts. It's the one word that is consistenly used when describing Dickie Moore, who once won a scoring championship with a broken wrist in a cast. A battler, scorer and playmaker, Moore was playing a Canadiens team ravaged by injuries in the middle of the five Cup run of the fifties. As the Canadiens lineup thinned, Moore stuck it out to help lead the team down the stretch and keep it in first place. It's all one needs to know about the man.
First All-Star Team Left Wing (1977)
Second All-Star Team Left Wing (1978, 1980)
The most fleeting of all Habs snipers, the puck found Shutt and it was burried in the net. A perfect complement to the all aroung game awareness of center Jacques Lemaire and the dazzle of Lafleur. Shutt was never grandiose or elaborate, just consistent in putting the puck where it belonged. Nine consecutive 30 goal seasons is his legacy.
First All-Star Team Left Wing (1973)
A big man with grace and deceptive speed, the Big M was a tough player to shove off the puck. Perhaps forgotten in the aftermath of the 1971 Dryden sensation, Mahovlich was a big reason the Canadiens were competitively matched with the Bruins that spring. Nearing the end of his career, he offered the Habs four of his most splendid seasons.
Art Ross Trophy (1939)
First All-Star Team Left Wing (1939, 1940, 1945)
Hart Memorial Trophy (1939)
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (1946)
Second All-Star Team Left Wing (1938, 1946)
A man who learned to win by hating to lose, Blake was a consumate pro in every sense of the word. A team first man all the who, Blake turned from gritty foe to discipline rival, toning down his pemalty minutes from 49 down to only six minors in his final three seasons. Remains the only NHL player to win an Art Ross and coach a team to a Stanley Cup, which he did 8 times as Habs bench boss.
NHL First All-Star Team (1965)
Bill Masterton Trophy (1968) Played in NHL All-Star Game (1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1967)
Contrary to popular belief, it was not Bob Gainey who invented nor perfected the defensive specialist role on a hockey team. Of the many who preceded him, one of the best was Claude Provost, an aggressive and dogged checker whose skating style was all angles and elbows. The relentless Provost frustrated the living heck out of stars from the era such as Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe. There were never many accolades for Provost, but his efforts landed his name on nine Stanley Cups, the most of any player not in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Honourable Mentions: Bob Gainey, Mats Naslund, Joe Malone