The Montreal Canadiens are an organization rich in history with 18 banners hanging high up in the rafters of the Bell Centre representing the greatest players which have ever adorned the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge, and within those banners are 16 jersey numbers that will forever remain unused again to signify their iconic status within the organization.
Number 20 is not one of those numbers, but perhaps it should just for the general well-being of the players who are unknowingly thrust upon its curse. Since 2006, 10 players have worn that number, and none have lasted more than one year. Its latest victim was Christian Thomas who was traded on Tuesday by the Montreal Canadiens to Phoenix for Lucas Lessio.
We can trace back the origins of this curse back to the 2000-2001 season, when PJ Stock signed as a free agent with the Canadiens. He was given jersey #20, which ironically ended up being the total amount of games he played for the team before he got traded for Gino Odjick later in the season.
Three months after the Stock trade, Richard Zednik arrived to the Montreal organization via trade (bringing along Jan Bulis for Trevor Linden and Dainius Zubrus) and he inherited the #20 jersey. Zednik actually managed to have a successful career with the Habs, staying on five seasons until the end of the 2005-2006 season. But Zednik was to be the last multi-season stint for a Hab player wearing the #20 jersey. Coincidentally, or not, PJ Stock began his media career in 2006, and that's when the curse of #20 enveloped the Canadiens organization in its firm grasp.
First came three consecutive seasons of free agents who were signed in the twilight of their careers: Mike Johnson (2006-2007), Bryan Smolinski (2007-2008), and Robert Lang (2008-2009). Each one rendered faithful service to the Habs organization but did not return for a second season.
The 2009-2010 season started just fine without a player wearing #20. But things took a turn soon after. In November the Habs claimed Jay Leach off of re-entry waivers from the New Jersey Devils. He played a grand total of seven games for the team, before being submitted and lost to waivers to the San Jose Sharks one month later.
Three days after that, on December 4th 2009, the occasion of the Centennial game of the Montreal Canadiens, two numbers were simultaneously retired: Elmer Lach's #16 and Emile "Butch" Bouchard's #3.
Ryan O'Byrne had worn #3 for the two seasons prior. In a touching moment as part of the jersey retirement ceremony, O'Byrne removed his #3 jersey, handed it to the surprised Bouchard - who didn't even know of the honour before hand -and revealed the doomed #20 jersey underneath as his new number.
He managed to survive the rest of the season, which gave hope that the curse was broken, but after playing a mere three games in the 2010-2011 season, Ryan O'Byrne was traded away to the Colorado Avalanche for prospect Michael Bournival, one month shy of the one year anniversary of inheriting the #20 jersey.
Just over a month later, the Montreal Canadiens made the acquisition of James Wisniewski from the New York Islanders to bolster their defence after losing Andrei Markov for the rest of the season due to a knee injury. Wisniewski did not last the season wearing that jersey as he was traded on June 29th to the Columbus Blue Jackets, a day before entering free agency. The Canadiens got a fifth round draft pick in return which ended up being Charles Hudon.
With the shortened season in 2012-13 came the shortened stay of free agent signing Colby Armstrong, who was the latest addition of the pantheon of players who wore #20 for less than a calendar year.
In 2013-2014 it was Thomas Vanek's turn to adorn #20 and when he arrived at the trade deadline with much fanfare. It all started off well, but by playoff time, Vanek fizzled out of the organization.
In 2014-2015, it was Manny Malhotra's turn, but as we had seen so many times before, Malhotra was in the final throes of his career, and after 58 games became a permanent healthy scratch until he too was let go to free agency.
And the latest victim, as mentioned earlier, is Christian Thomas. Thomas has been with the organization since the summer of 2013 when he was traded from the Rangers for Danny Kristo, and split time between the AHL and the NHL, making his Canadiens debut later in the 2013-2014 season.
Then, over the summer, Christian Thomas changed his number from #60 to #20. The rest, as they say, is PJ Stock's fault.
UPDATE (2-JUL-16): Victor Bartley was next to take the mantle when he joined the Canadiens as part of a trade in January 2016. He only played nine games with the Canadiens before becoming an unrestricted free agent and signing with the Minnesota Wild on July 1st, 2016.
UPDATE #2 (10-JUL-17): Zach Redmond was the latest to adorn the cursed jersey, signing as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016 for two seasons with the Canadiens. Sure enough Redmond shattered his foot during the pre-season blocking a shot and would miss several months to start the season. He would only play 16 games with the Canadiens upon his return before being permanently banished to the AHL in January. Redmond remains in the organization for now, having survived as owner of the 20 jersey. He will enter his second season with the team shortly, but only time will tell if he will be able to wear it with the Canadiens again, or whether he will face another season in the AHL.
UPDATE #3 (4-OCT-17): Zach Redmond is traded to the Buffalo Sabres for forward Nicolas Deslauriers. Redmond fell out of favour quickly this season by the Canadiens, being the first player to be placed on waivers by the team. Despite signing a two-year deal with the Canadiens originally, he too ended up limited to no more than a season as part of the organization, growing the mythos of the doomed jersey. That makes it 12 straight players since 2006 who wore 20, and lasted no more than a season with the Canadiens.