This weekend, the Habs will be playing a crucial two game series against the Philadelphia Flyers, with playoff aspirations on the line. They should be rousing contests, pitting two desperate teams with a long history of animosity against each other
However, I feel that the Flyers still owe us one. Or three.
The reason I say this is that much of the Flyers' success over the past 15 years has been courtesy of two trades which decimated our squad, and directly led to the demise of two former general managers. And it involved three great players who at one time, could have formed a new era in Montreal Canadiens history.
In February 1995, the Montreal Canadiens fatefully traded John Leclair, Eric Desjardins and Gilbert Dionne for Mark Recchi and a third round draft pick. General Manager Serge Savard was anxious to ignite more offense on an underachieving team. In his desperation, however, Savard parlayed away a blossoming John Leclair and the long-underrated Eric Desjardins. In return, the Habs got the services of another strong young player in Mark Recchi.
It was a sad goodbye:
Coupe Stanley 1993 -10 buts en prolongation (via NationTricolore)
Savard must have been hoodwinked by Recchi's mind-blowing numbers in his early seasons, enough to overlook the fact that he benefited from the presence of incredible teammates, particularly during his time in Pittsburgh. Furthermore, Savard was an increasingly embattled man, having already shipped out perennial Norris candidate Chris Chelios for an aging Denis Savard, and playoff hero Claude Lemieux for Sylvain Turgeon. The Canadiens were uncertain of making the playoffs, and the increasingly frustrated fanbase was calling for his head.
The move backfired horribly, leading directly to Savard's demise. Mark Recchi was no bust, but Savard had traded away the bookend winger with whom he would have thrived with. He was a grinding scorer on a team which could not provide the linemates to compliment his play. The loss of Desjardins simply devastated the blueline, already reeling from the departures of Chelios and Mathieu Schneider. Arguably, the lack of protection Roy had during his final months as Montreal's netminder led directly to his frustrations, and eventually, to the final rift between himself and the organization in December of the same year.
Recchi, the young BC native, was burdened with the massive expectation of replacing Leclair and Desjardins' output. It was not to be, though to Recchi's credit, he always tried to hold his head high, playing diligently through some of Montreal's darkest seasons. Eventually, and probably to no one's surprise, Recchi finally wanted out. Rejean Houle and Ronald Corey's tenure had proven to be just as destructive as Savard's, and the future seemed bleak. Recchi had never meshed perfectly with the pieces in place. Pierre Turgeon, Vincent Damphousse and Saku Koivu were the primary offensive players, and all trended towards pass-heavy playmaking. Recchi's north-south game never seemed to quite fit the team around him.
On March 11, 1999, the Habs made it so, when Rejean Houle sent Recchi back to Philadelphia in exchange for a slumping Dainius Zubrus and two draft picks. The impasse was publicly characterized as one about money, as Montreal, along with other Canadian franchises, were simply unable to compete with the strong American dollar. In Recchi`s case, however, the utter futility of 4+ seasons in Montreal was clearly grating on him. Had Houle and Corey sold Recchi on a clear plan to improve the team, perhaps this second, equally devastating swap could have been avoided. It wasn't to be. After the trade, the emergence of a plucky, electrifying Finn was the only bright spot for Habs fans.
Chris Stevenson of the Ottawa Sun put the trade in its context well:
Well, the Montreal Canadiens finally admitted in deed what their fans knew in their hearts.
The Habs playoff hopes died Saturday night with that miserable loss against the last-place Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers just shovelled some dirt on them Monday night with another defeat.
As even the biggest fan of La Sainte Flannelle will tell you, all that's left is the math.
Pierre Turgeon's first goal as a Canadien is one of the few highlights from the era. Note who figured in on the helpers:
Pierre Turgeon's 1st goal as a Hab (via rainman12953)
Since the dawn of the decade, the Habs had now lost, or given away: Kirk Muller, Claude Lemieux, Patrick Roy, Pierre Turgeon, Mark Recchi, John Leclair, Eric Desjardins, Chris Chelios, Stephane Richer, Mathieu Schneider, Guy Carbonneau and Mike Keane. That`s a lot of leadership, offense, defense and goaltending.
Meanwhile, the Flyers had become consistent challengers for the Eastern Conference crown, having united the hulking Eric Lindros, a prolific John Leclair and steady Swede Mikael Renberg on the infamous 'Legion of Doom' line. The smooth Eric Desjardins provided the sort of consistent defensive awareness and explosive offense which the Habs now found themselves lacking. All that was left was a goaltender. An aging Ron Hextall was unable to get the Flyer's Lord Stanley's cup, and angry Ron's successors proved even more porous. Recchi took Renberg's place on the 'Legion of Doom' line, with considerable success.
Thus, as we head into the weekend, with the playoffs nearing, let us remember to pay the Flyers back for all the good deeds we have done them!