One of our favourite things to do at EOTP is our annual ranking of the best 25 players under the age of 25, currently part of the Canadiens organization, aka the Top 25 Under 25. We thought it would be fun to try and rank the 25 best Habs players of all time, except we're opening this one up to the community, giving you the opportunity to vote and have a hand in what the final list will look like.
The options will be limited to retired players, who played the majority of their career with the Canadiens. Most of the current roster hasn't been around long enough to be effectively compared with many of the names, so they'll be out of contention. The statistical totals shown for each player will also be limited to their production while they wore the CH.
We'll be going in reverse order, meaning that this first vote is indeed for the number one spot. Each subsequent round will see a new name added to replace the winner, until the final list of 25 has been determined. After you've cast your vote, we encourage you to say why you voted the way you did, and suggest who you'd like to see added for the next round of voting. The more people that get involved, the funner it should be.
Without further ado, here are your candidates for the number one spot on this list.
The Rocket; a man who needs little introduction. Maurice Richard is the most celebrated player in the history of the team. He first tasted victory in 1944, and went on to lead the team to a still-standing record of five straight Stanley Cup wins. He was the first player in the history of the league to achieve a 50-goal season, doing so in 50 games. When Clarence Campbell infamously suspended him in March for the remainder of the season including the playoffs in 1955, the fans were so irate that it led to the worst riot in the history of Montreal.
Every candidate who comes after him on this list is likely to have a tough time beating him for the top spot. Few names are as synonymous with Canadiens' hockey as Maurice Richard, but is he the greatest player they've ever had? At least when it comes to scoring goals, he absolutely is, and he has a trophy named after him to prove it. Montreal will never forget Richard, as evidenced by the insane, and well deserved, ovation he received before the final game ever played at the Forum.
The Big Bird. Larry Robinson is known throughout the hockey world as one of the best defensemen to ever play the game. He was a major cog in the 1970's Canadiens teams that absolutely dominated the league. Few blueliners have come through the organization that were able to exhibit complete control over a game the way he did. He is the all time points leader for Habs defensemen by a sight, he won two Norris trophies, one Conn Smythe, and six Stanley cups.
To many, his most impressive stat may be his still-standing league-record for plus/minus at a whopping plus 730 (plus 700 with the Canadiens). While plus/minus is not necessarily the greatest stat, over a full-career sample it does indicate a certain trait. That trait is that when he was on the ice, the Canadiens scored a lot more goals than were scored against, and he was vital to that end.
Le Gros Bill. Though we recently lost him, fans of the Canadiens will never forget Jean Béliveau. It took a lot to convince the man to leave the Quebec Senior Hockey League, but when he finally did, he became one of the most productive players to ever don the Tricolore. He was a dominant player who used size and skill to light up the score sheet night-in and night-out, and took home a lot of hardware in the process. One Art Ross trophy, one Conn Smythe, two Hart trophies, and an absurd 10 Stanley Cups, all with his Montreal Canadiens.
He is perhaps best known for being arguably the greatest gentleman to play the sport. He shaped for many what it means to be a Canadien, and still serves today as an example of what to strive for as a member of the organization. Whether it was on or off the ice, Jean Béliveau was as great a leader the team could ever hope to have. If there was a name more synonymous with the team than Richard, it would likely be Béliveau.
Elmer Lach was of course the pivot that centred the most famous line in Canadiens' history; The Punch Line. One of the best centremen to ever play for the Habs, it was Elmer Lach who gave Jean Béliveau lessons on how to take face-offs when the latter entered the league. He was known for his exceptional skating and passing abilities. Béliveau himself spoke fondly of Lach's amazing passes in his biography. Through 14 years in Montreal, Lach won three Stanley Cups , two Art Ross trophies, and one Hart trophy.
Perhaps the best part about Elmer Lach is that he attended Toronto's training camp in 1937, but was rejected for being 'too small.' Three years later, he would sign with the Canadiens and become one of the club's all-time greats. At the time of his retirement, Lach was the leading point scorer not just in Montreal Canadiens' history, but that of the entire league. That fantastic passing sure helped him to that end. He may not have the pedigree of his famous former right winger, but he absolutely deserves his spot on this list.
Considered by many to be hockey's first superstar, it was Howie Morenz to whom Maurice Richard would be compared, once the latter broke into the league. An exceptional skater, Morenz possessed speed on a level that was very tough for players at that time to contend with. While his points totals aren't as lofty as some of the other candidates, I would remind voters that he played a good part of his career with forward passing considered illegal. Surely not many would argue against the statement; that if he played with a different rulebook, he would have posted higher totals.
With Montreal he won three stanley cups, and also three Hart trophies as league MVP. He led the league in scoring on two occasions. Most importantly, as the first Montreal superstar, he may well deserve a lot of credit for how hockey is revered in the city today. After his death, his funeral was held at the Forum with his casket placed at centre ice. Some 50,000 fans came to pay their respects, and the city of Montreal mourned his death for months. Even if you don't think he's the greatest of all time, he did pave the way for those who came after him.
Doug Harvey was a pioneer. As one of the very first puck moving defenders in the NHL, Harvey's style of play challenged the conventional notion that defenseman were only there to play defence. That isn't to say he wasn't legendary in his own zone as well, evidenced by his six Norris Trophies as a member of the Canadiens (He won a seventh with New York as well.) Toe Blake once referred to him as "the greatest defenseman who has ever played hockey, bar none." He also won six Stanley Cups, and was a key part of those five straight wins between 1956 and 1960.
And Harvey was one who marched to the beat of his own drum. He took a ton of criticism for his efforts to unionize the players, and maintained for a long time that his trade to New York in 1961 had everything to do with those efforts. He viewed himself as more than a defenseman, and he proved that to be the case with his play. He viewed himself as more than just a hockey player, and he proved that by taking it upon himself to fight for every other player in the league. All the while, he managed to have an amazing career as one of the best defenders to lace up a pair of skates.
This list of candidates would be egregiously incomplete without the all time leading scorer for the Canadiens. Guy Lafleur. He didn't quite catch Maurice Richard in the goals department, but he was as prolific a scorer as the Canadiens have ever had. General Manager Sam Pollock knew he would be exactly that, so the season before he was drafted, he did everything he could to make sure he had a high pick. Lafleur went on to win five Stanley cups, three Art Ross trophies, two Hart trophies, and a Conn Smythe.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about his career was that he was the first player in league history to score 50 goals and 100 points in six straight seasons. It is hard to think of a more iconic image in Canadiens history, than watching Le Démon Blond fly down the ice, wearing no helmet, with his long and smooth strides. Arguably the best scorer the Canadiens have ever had, it remains to be seen if he can score your vote for number one.
When Newsy Lalonde was signed by the Saskatoon Shieks of the WHL in 1922, the hockey community of Montreal was in uproar at his loss, and the fact that Joliat was the compensation for the signing. Dubbed 'The Little Giant,' Joliat was like the first ever Brendan Gallagher. He stood a mere 5'7" and weighed 136 pounds soaking wet, but he played the game with absolutely no fear, used his speed, and became one of the best scorers of his time.
Joliat played with Howie Morenz for the bulk of his career, and in many ways, he was really the needle to Morenz's thread. The Flying Frenchman moniker was bolstered by these two, due to their extremely speedy ways of playing the game. He won three Stanley Cups with the Canadiens with Morenz at his side, won a Hart trophy, and retired as the leading Canadiens' goal scorer at the time. You may not know Joliat very well, but he absolutely deserves to be on this list.
And we've now arrived at the first goaltender on our list, who like Doug Harvey, was a pioneer for his position. Best known as the inventor of the goalie mask, his wins record of 42 - shared with Ken Dryden - which he accomplished twice, was only beaten this past year by Carey Price's out-of-this-world season. He is still the all-time Canadiens' leader among netminders for games played, and also for wins. He won six Stanley Cups with the Canadiens, and equaled that total with six Vezina trophies. During his time with Montreal, the name Plante was synonymous with the word 'winning'.
If not for Jacques Plante, the goaltending position may not have evolved the way it did, and the Montreal Canadiens may not have as many cups as they did.
Sticking with the goaltenders, Dryden is the man who shared the wins record with the aforementioned Plante, prior to last season. He won the Conn Smythe trophy in 1971 before even playing his official rookie season. When it did come time for him to play his actual rookie season, he naturally took home the Calder trophy. He backstopped the powerhouse 70's Canadiens to six Stanley Cups, and won the Vezina five times. He didn't have a long career, retiring after only seven full seasons, but did he ever accomplish a lot over that short amount of time.
Dryden was always a very intelligent hockey mind, his post-retirement book 'The Game' being one of the better reads you'll have the privilege to enjoy. And few will forget his iconic pose, standing upright with his blocker resting on his stick, making him look like a man among boys. Most of all, when you really think about how much he won during his short time with the team, you have to give him some thought as one of the best ever.
The third and final goaltender in contention for the number one spot is none other than Saint Patrick. The most recently active Canadien featured on this list, Roy took the league by storm in 1986 when he led the team to the Stanley Cup in his rookie season, earning himself a Conn Smythe after posting a 1.92 GAA in 20 games. He would win the Vezina trophy three times with the Canadiens, to go along with three Jennings trophies shared with Brian Hayward.
He dragged the unlikely 1993 Canadiens through the playoffs with 10 overtime wins, another Conn Smythe, and ultimately the Stanley Cup. While the 1993 team was good, there is no denying that Patrick Roy was the primary reason that they were able to win the last cup the team won. While he did depart the team under some tough circumstances, it wasn't entirely his fault, and probably shouldn't affect his consideration in the votes.
There you have it folks, 11 greats for you to choose from as to who you believe should be crowned number one on the EOTP community list. Happy debating, and remember to suggest players you'd like to see added in the next round of voting!